Tunisian President meets with activists over landfill protests

Hauwa Mustapha

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Clashes has flared again between security forces and residents of a Tunisian town protesting against the reopening of a landfill site they say is a public health hazard.

Demonstrations in Agareb earlier in the week, sparked by authorities reversing a decision to close the dump, escalated after the death on Monday night of a protester from what relatives said was tear gas inhalation.

The interior ministry said he had died of an unrelated health condition, while the prosecution opened an enquiry.

On Thursday, security forces once again use tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators near the site, in the Sfax region on the central coast, some of whom threw rocks.

“We’re not submitting to them and we’re not backing down until the dump is closed,” said one protester who asked to remain anonymous.

Several demonstrators were seen suffering the effects of tear gas.

The protests come amid a garbage crisis in the wider Sfax province, with refuse piling up on pavements since the Agareb site closed in September.

Residents say the dump is full and that waste, including dangerous industrial and medical refuse, has caused a string of diseases from cancer to sight problems and infertility.

“Since 2013 we’ve been demanding our right to a safe environment,” said Chokri Bahri, a teacher and activist with Maneche Msabb (I’m not a rubbish dump), a long-running art-based campaign against the facility”.

“That site has lots of bad effects and has caused diseases, poisoning and victims of pollution in Agareb,” he said.

Bahri and other activists from Agareb later met President Kais Saied, who discussed with them “the situation in the town and efforts being made to tackle the waste crisis there”.

The president vowed to resolve it “as soon as possible”.

Saied also warned against “all who seek to stir up the situation”, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Residents say the site, opened in 2008, was only meant to be used for five years, but continued despite an order from a judge in 2019 for its immediate closure.

In late September it was deemed full and finally shut down, but on Monday authorities reopened it, triggering outrage among residents.

The death of Abderrazek Lacheheb, 35, on Tuesday threatened further escalation.

A post-mortem however found that he had died “naturally from a complete occlusion of an artery, causing acute cardiac failure”, according to a statement from a court in Sfax.

Tunisia has long suffered difficulties dealing with the estimated 2.5 million tonnes of rubbish produced every year, dumping the vast majority in landfills and recycling only a very limited amount.


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