For youth in Tunisia mining region, it’s ‘mine or die’

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A worker gestures at a phosphate production plant in Kef Eddour, in the Metlaoui mining region, one of the main mining sites in central Tunisia, after workers restarted production after a month-long strike, on March 8, 2018. (AFP)
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Unemployed Tunisians sit at a phosphate production plant in Kef Eddour. (AFP)
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A view of the Metlaoui phosphate production plant on March 8, 2018, in the Metlaoui mining region. (AFP)
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Mothers of unemployed Tunisian men sit at a phosphate production plant in Kef Eddour, in the Metlaoui mining region. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2018
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For youth in Tunisia mining region, it’s ‘mine or die’

METLAOUI: Dozens of unemployed youths camp out around phosphate mines in central Tunisia, demanding jobs as part of a wave of protests aimed at focusing attention on alleged state neglect.
The surge in anger is the latest in the North African nation’s mining region, where one of the country’s highest unemployment rates and a stark lack of infrastructure have fueled regular unrest.
The most recent confrontations broke out at the end of January, with demonstrators frustrated over hiring practices blocking work for six weeks.
Among the grey dunes of phosphate at the Kef Eddour quarry near the town of Metlaoui, 10 women and about 50 young men — sons and grandsons of miners — eat and sleep in a few prefabricated cabins.
“The phosphate company is the only thing here, we have no development, no jobs,” said Ali Ben Msalah, 25, who has been unemployed since finishing high school.
“For us, the solution is either emigration, death or prison.”
Next to him, Souad Smadah, 60, the daughter and wife of miners, nods as she warms couscous and tea over a fire for the young protesters.
She is angry that none of her five sons have managed to find work at the phosphate mines, accusing businessmen and trade unions of prioritising their relatives when hiring.
Smadah’s eldest earns 300 dinars ($125 or 100 euros) a month in a bakery, almost three-times less than a starting salary at the mine.

'Little Paris'

Metlaoui is rich in phosphate, a highly sought after ore used to make fertilizer of which Tunisia is the world’s fourth largest producer.
Boasting a swimming pool, cinema and tennis courts, it was once nicknamed “Little Paris.”
Today, however, the town’s jobless youth loiter along cratered roads, their teeth yellowed from polluted water.
The Gafsa Phosphate Company (CPG), a state monopoly, has long been the main source of jobs and income for the region.
Decades of corrupt or absent authorities sparked mass protests around the mines in 2008 that were brutally repressed by dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
His fall in a 2011 uprising which sparked the Arab Spring upheavals sparked hope of change.
But there has been no sign of improvement and a combination of lack of investment, skilled workers and unrest has even seen output nosedive.
“Since the revolution, we can no longer produce the desired tonnage,” said CPG’s general secretary, Ali Khmili.
The company, which used to produce up to 8 million tons a year, barely extracted 4.2 million last year.
The most recent disruption to the mine’s work began in January after the series of demonstrations and riots, fueled by price and tax increases and persistent unemployment, broke out in the region and across Tunisia.
Adding to the tensions are looming municipal elections scheduled for May, with legislative and presidential elections set for 2019.
In Gafsa, the heightening of political tensions has complicated negotiations with the protesters, paralysing production earlier this year.
The halt in work was “essentially linked to a lack of trust” between residents and the government, according to Rabeh Ahmadi, an activist with the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights (FTDES), an NGO specializing in social issues.
The government eventually demanded legal action and suspended some 1,700 hires in progress in an attempt to quell the unrest.

Unhappy residents

Mining slowly resumed this month and ministers were dispatched to the region last week. But residents unhappy with solutions proposed by the government have continued to disrupt production.
They say it is the only way to force those in power to pay attention to them, as phosphate is crucial to reaching the government’s target of three percent growth
CPG, which is running at a deficit largely because of recurring unrest, has not contributed to the state budget since 2011.
And some at the company warn that by targeting the phosphate output the demonstrators could end up just hurting their region even more.
“The protesters’ claims are legitimate, there is a total absence of the state in this area,” said Rafiq Smida, an CPG engineer and advocate for the phosphate industry.
“But if work there is blocked, 32,000 jobs are at risk.”


Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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Calm in Hodeidah as observers move in to monitor cease-fire

  • “Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said
  • The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday

JEDDAH: Truce monitoring observers will be deployed in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Wednesday as the first 24 hours of a UN-brokered cease-fire passed without incident.

The Redeployment Coordination Committee comprises members of the Yemeni government supported by the Saudi-led coalition, and Houthi militias backed by Iran, and is overseen by the UN. 

The head of the committee will report to the UN Security Council every week.

Deployment of the observers is the latest stage in a peace deal reached after talks last week in Sweden. Both sides in the conflict agreed to a cease-fire in Hodeidah and the withdrawal of their forces within 21 days.

“Both parties said publicly they are abiding by the cease-fire,” a UN official said on Tuesday.

Local authorities and police will run the city and its three port facilities under UN supervision, and the two sides are barred from bringing in reinforcements.

UN envoy Martin Griffith said the committee was expected to start its work swiftly “to translate the momentum built up in Sweden into achievements on the ground.”

The truce in Hodeidah officially began at midnight on Monday. Sporadic clashes continued until about 3 a.m. on Tuesday, but residents said there was calm after that. 

“We are hopeful that things will go back to the way they were and that there will be no aggression, no airstrikes and lasting security,” said one, Amani Mohammed.

Another resident, Mohammed Al-Saikel, said he was optimistic the cease-fire would pave the way for a broader truce. “We are hopeful about this cease-fire in Hodeidah and one for Yemen in general,” he said. “We will reach out in peace to whoever does the same.”

The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution that asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals by the end of the month on how to monitor the cease-fire.

The resolution, submitted by the UK, “calls on all parties to the conflict to take further steps to facilitate the unhindered flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies including food, fuel, medicine and other essential imports and humanitarian personnel into and across the country.”