Africa

Tunisia trade union calls for strike over death of protester

A demonstrator carries a Tunisian flag as he speaks with police during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, October 10, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Tunisia’s powerful General Trade Union (UGTT) has called for a general strike on Wednesday in Aguereb, in the central region of Sfax, a day after a demonstrator died from inhaling tear gas fired by police to disperse protests against the reopening of a landfill site.

UGTT, which has about one million members and is a major force in Tunisian politics, called for a judicial investigation into what it described as “intentional murder of a young man” during the protests.

The trade union pronounced Wednesday a day of mourning for Abderrazek Lacheheb, 35, and demanded that the perpetrators behind his killing be held accountable, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

The 35-year-old died in the town of Aguereb which has seen weeks of angry demonstrations over a growing waste crisis and violent confrontations over security forces reopening a landfill.

The Ministry of Interior denied that Lacheheb had been suffocated by tear gas, saying he had been admitted to hospital for a health condition unrelated to the protests.

The union also called for the lifting of what it described as a “siege” on Aguereb and called for the permanent closure of the landfill and full compensation of its workers.

Escalating crisis
Public pressure forced the closure of the rubbish dump in September.

City councils in the region have since refused to collect rubbish, complaining that the state has not found workable alternatives.

This has caused thousands of tonnes of household waste to accumulate for about a month in the streets, markets and even hospitals of Sfax, the second-largest Tunisian city, sparking widespread anger.

Thousands protested last week saying the authorities were deliberately killing them and violating their rights.

Late on Monday, the Ministry of Environment reopened the closed landfill, despite a judicial decision prohibiting that.

Witnesses said when workers began collecting waste and transporting it to Aguereb, hundreds of young people gathered, rejecting the decision, which prompted police to fire tear gas to disperse them.

On Tuesday, Tunisian protesters set fire to a police station, witnesses said.

The incident is the first serious test facing the government of Prime Minister Najla Boden, appointed by President Kais Saied last month, in how to respond to protests over poor public services and fragile social and environmental conditions.

Saied has faced mounting criticism since he assumed executive authority in July, brushing aside most of the constitution to seize almost total power in what critics have described as a coup.

Saied unveiled a new government in October and has promised a national dialogue, but has yet to lay out a detailed plan to restore normal constitutional order.

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