Strike in Tunisia town over halt to Libya border trade

AFP , Wednesday 11 May 2016

A town in southern Tunisia went on strike on Wednesday in protest at a decision by Libyan authorities late last month to halt cross-border trade on which its economy depends.

Ben Guerdane, one of the North African nation's poorest towns, was also hit by jihadist violence from across the border that killed seven civilians and 13 security personnel in March as well as 55 extremists.

Shops and offices in the town of 60,000 inhabitants were all closed in response to the strike call by the UGTT main trade union confederation, an AFP correspondent reported.

Only the hospital emergency department, a pharmacy and some schools remained open.

Libyan border officials say they halted all freight traffic since the end of April through the Ras Jedir crossing in a bid to stop the smuggling of fuel, which is much cheaper across the border.

Negotiations focused on customs duties have so far failed to reach a settlement.

Despite the oppressive heat, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the union offices in Ben Guerdane but a planned march failed to take place.

"They tell us there are contacts (with the Libyan side) but we don't see anything. We want radical solutions at Ras Jedir. The people are very dissatisfied," local UGTT official Mohsen Lachiheb told AFP.

A man in his 30s who asked not to be named blamed the town's economic woes on Tunisia's politicians.

"In March, we faced a terrorist attack. They wanted to kill us with bullets. Our politicians want to kill us with their policies," he said angrily.

Several tyres were earlier set alight on the town's streets but there was no intervention by the large number of police present.

On Monday, police used tear gas to disperse a protest by hundreds of demonstrators.

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