Last updated: 25 November, 2011

Calm returns to Tunisian towns, but discontent simmers

Calm returned to the central Tunisian mining region of Gafsa Friday after an outbreak of violence over allegedly corrupt hiring practices at the Gafsa Phosphates Company (CPG).

But while the army patrolled the town of Mdhilla Friday, unhappy locals took off to CPG’s headquarters in the capital Tunis to protest the outcome of CPG recruitment exams which they say are “falsified” and “unfair”.

Talks were being held and a delegation of protestors was to meet with CPG to calm “an explosive situation”, said the Tunisian Chemical Group (TCG), CPG’s parent company.

The interim government, which is still in charge until a new cabinet is in place, announced it had suspended the final publication of results and would allow appeals to be made, according to the TAP agency.

In a bout of violence that started late Wednesday, police stations and CPG buildings were ransacked and set ablaze after the publication of the exam results in the towns of Oum Larayes, where schools were closed on Thursday, and Mhdilla.

Despite an overnight curfew Thursday, scuffles between security forces and protestors broke out again, TAP reported.

The trouble started when “a jobless person whose name was not on the list of hires set his home ablaze and tried to set fire to himself”, witnesses told AFP by telephone.

High unemployment and social discontent has been simmering since riots in the region in 2008.

Local job candidates accuse the CPG, the main employer in a deprived region with substantial unemployment, of nepotism and corrupt hiring practices and claim the exam results are manipulated.

“The results published show that corruption, nepotism and bribes are still happening,” said Mohammed Hlal, a 28-year-old from Oum Larayes protesting in Tunis.

But CPG says that it cannot hire everyone who wants a job with the company.

“The problem is that all the people in the region demand that CPG employ them, even hairdressers and greengrocers,” a TCG representative told AFP.

Protestors also blame mining unions, who “put forward other people’s files” for a job before their own, claimed unemployed technician Hedia Jallouli.

Strikes shut down all but one TCG factory Friday, according to company representative Mohammed Hamdi, with TCG reporting losses of 500 million dinar (256 million euros) for 2011.

Tunisia is the fifth biggest producer of phosphates in the world.