Protests paralyse Tunisian town after migrant deaths

Protests paralyse Tunisian town after migrant deaths
Tunisians staged a massive protest in Zarzis, a coastal town in southern Tunisia on Tuesday amid growing anger over the fate of people who died in a shipwreck last month.
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Tunisians are protesting against the government for its poor handling of a migrant shipwreck last month [Getty]

A southern Tunisian coastal town was paralysed by protests on Tuesday amid growing anger over the fate of people who drowned in a migrant shipwreck last month, with some buried in unmarked graves.

The powerful UGTT labour union called a general strike in Zarzis on Tuesday, bringing to a head days of smaller protests to demand authorities do more to find missing bodies and improve living conditions.

Images showed the streets of Zarzis packed with protesters chanting anti-authority slogans with shops and government institutions closed.

"Today the state continues to ignore us and does not even search for those drowned," said Salim Zreidat, whose 15-year-old son Walid was among the missing.

"What has the state done for us to stop our children running? Is there employment? Nothing," he said, adding that Walid felt he had no future in Tunisia despite being an excellent student.

As the economy has lagged and public finances run into crisis amid political upheaval, many Tunisians have taken to often-rickety boats to join the illegal migration route to Europe.

Dozens have died this year in shipwrecks as boats attempted the journey from Tunisia's eastern coast to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Protests began in Zarzis this month after a boat believed to be carrying 18 migrants disappeared. Last week local fishermen searching for the wreck found eight bodies.

Anger increased when authorities buried the bodies in a graveyard for migrants rather than work to identify them, and were slow to search for those missing.

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President Kais Saied spoke about the Zarzis protests on Monday, using a video of his meeting with Prime Minister Najla Bouden to say the government had tried to identify the missing and would seek to find those responsible for people trafficking.

As anger over unemployment and shortages of food and fuel intensified across Tunisia, there were four consecutive nights of protests in the capital's poor Ettadamen district as youths clashed with police.

On Saturday, opponents of Saied, who regard his recent expansion of powers as an undemocratic coup, which he denies, protested in their thousands on the streets of central Tunis.