The protesters were camping outside the El Kamour pumping station in Tatouine province demanding more jobs and bigger share of the revenues from oil hydrocarbon investments in the region.
Earlier this month, Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi ordered the army to protect phosphate, gas and oil production installations to ward off protesters.
The decision to deploy the army to protect industrial installations is unprecedented in Tunisia. The move was taken on the backdrop of surging social upheaval in the country’s south, notably in Tatouine where protests have been staged threatening the normal functioning of the gas facilities.
Last week, Tunisia’s defense minister Farhat Horchani reassured that the army role is to protect gas facilities and hinder any act that may block production.
The protests come at a sensitive time as the government tries to enact austerity reforms. Tunisia is a small oil and gas producer compared to its OPEC neighbors, Libya and Algeria, with production around 44,000 barrels per day.
Protests that have hit the phosphate sector in past years cost the country more than $ 2 billion, according to officials.