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UPDATE 1-Tunisia arrests 14 officials in phosphate graft probe

·1 min read

(Adds background)

TUNIS, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Tunisia arrested 14 people for suspected corruption in the phosphate industry, the judiciary said on Thursday, as the president moved to target graft in an important sector after seizing control of government last month.

Those detained included a former junior minister, a mines director and procurement director at the Industry Ministry and six managers, judiciary spokesman Mohsen Dali said.

President Kais Saied dismissed the prime minister, froze parliament and assumed executive authority in a sudden intervention on July 25 that his opponents have labelled a coup.

Saied, who was elected in a landslide in 2019 vowing to stand up against graft, has said gangs involved in corruption in the phosphate sector must be held accountable.

Though opposed by the biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, Saied's intervention last month appears to have widespread popular support after years of economic stagnation and growing corruption.

Tunisia was once one of the biggest producers of phosphate minerals, used to make fertilisers, but its market share fell after the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, as protests and strikes to demand jobs or local investment cut into output.

Production fell from about 8.2 million tonnes in 2010 to 3.1 million tonnes last year and the state-run mining company Gafsa Phosphates went from being a big contributor to state finances to losing money.

In a boost to the industry last week, Gafsa Phosphates transported minerals by train instead of road for the first time in a year after having ceased shipments because of protests that closed the railway. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)