Tunisia faces new unrest on Libya border

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Residents of Tunisia's two main border crossings with Libya staged a general strike Tuesday to protest what they say is excessive force by police during clashes over the weekend that left one person dead.

The unrest in Ben Guerdane, near the northern Mediterranean crossing, and Tatouine, near the southern desert Duheiba crossing, is influenced in part by the ongoing civil war in Libya.

The disturbances are the first major challenge of Tunisia's new government, and underline the economic and political obstacles to stability and prosperity.

Demonstrations began Sunday in the two towns to protest a new border tax on foreigners that disrupted trade, especially the smuggling and informal economy that makes up more than 50 percent of the business in these impoverished regions.

Police dispersed the demonstrators and in Duheiba opened fire when protesters attacked a police station, killing one resident and wounding another.

Demonstrations have continued, this time over the police response and hundreds marched near the two crossings calling for "freedom, jobs and dignity" — the same slogans used by Tunisians four years earlier when they overthrew their president and kicked off pro-democracy uprisings around the region.

Since the revolution, Tunisia's democratic transition has remained on track, but the economy has suffered and life in traditionally poor areas like the border region has only become harder.

Residents closed schools, businesses and hospitals Tuesday and in Ben Guerdane, police resorted to tear gas to once more scatter protesters.

Libya is torn by competing militias and the periodic violence on the Tunisian side of the border, and flare-ups are believed to be a direct result of these struggles.

"Every development in Libya has a direct impact on Tunisia," said Abdelkrim Harouni, a parliamentarian with the Islamist Ennahda party to local radio.

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