Last updated: 10 February, 2015

South Tunisians strike after death in smuggling clash

Much of southern Tunisia bordering Libya staged a general strike Tuesday following deadly clashes between police and demonstrators after the seizure of contraband fuel, unions said.

They said only the emergency services, chemists and bakers were working in the Tatouine area, and an AFP journalist said Ben Guerdane near the Ras Jedir border post was also paralysed.

Police in Ben Guerdane used tear gas to disperse stone-throwing protesters.

Southern Tunisia lives largely off illegal cross-border trade, with Libyan oil providing smugglers with a good living.

Unions are demanding job creation schemes, the lifting of an export tax imposed on goods imposed in October, easing border controls and an inquiry into “excessive use of force” by the police Sunday.

Late Monday, the government indicated the export tax was being reconsidered, and lamented “painful events” the previous day.

One man died in the clashes with police at Dehiba, Tunisia’s second-largest border crossing with Libya after Ras Jedir.

In December 2013, a World Bank report said cross-border smuggling with both Libya and Algeria in the west was costing the Tunisian exchequer at least 1.2 billion dinars (around $675,000,000/600 million euros) a year.

It is estimated that some 328,000 tonnes of contraband products pass through Ras Jedir annually, and that 20 percent of Ben Guerdane’s economically active population lives off trafficking.

Closure of the southern frontier with violence-plagued Libya often sparks social upheaval.