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Tunisian dies after inhaling tear gas at landfill protest

By AFP - Nov 09,2021 - Last updated at Nov 09,2021

Youth clash with security forces in the central region of Sfax, which has seen weeks of angry demonstrations over a growing waste crisis on Tuesday (AFP photo)

AGUEREB, Tunisia — Anger over a regional garbage crisis in Tunisia degenerated on Tuesday into street clashes after a man died following exposure to tear gas during protests against the reopening of a landfill site.

Abderrazek Lacheheb, 35, died overnight, a medic and a relative said, in the town of Aguereb in the coastal region of Sfax after weeks of demonstrations over a growing waste and public health crisis.

"Abderrazek Lacheheb was transferred to Aguereb hospital suffering from asphyxia," a hospital official said.

The man was alive when he arrived at the hospital but died after security forces fired more tear gas outside the clinic, said his cousin Houcine Lacheheb.

"It was the police who killed him," he charged.

An AFP journalist in Aguereb saw security forces firing tear gas to disperse stone-throwing demonstrators.

Tunisian human rights group FTDES said Aguereb had seen "a violent intervention by security forces on Monday night to force the reopening of the Qena rubbish dump".

"The massive use of tear gas caused the death of Abderrazek Lacheheb," it charged.

The prosecution service said it had opened an inquiry into the man's death.

General strike

Protests flared again on Tuesday and demonstrators set fire to a National Guard station in the town, interior ministry spokesman Yasser Mesbah said.

He denied Lacheheb had been suffocated by tear gas.

"The man had a health problem that was nothing to do with the protests. His hospitalisation and death were nothing to do with the demonstrations," Mesbah said.

Videos shared on social media showed residents fleeing clouds of tear gas in front of the hospital, where angry relatives of Lacheheb were demonstrating after his death.

The powerful UGTT trades union announced a general strike for Wednesday in Aguereb, condemning a "savage intervention by security forces".

The union, which has had cold relations with President Kais Saied since he sacked Tunisia’s government and seized sweeing powers on July 25, described “bloody clashes between heavily armed security forces... and defenceless residents”.

Public pressure had forced the closure of the Sfax region’s main rubbish dump, in Aguereb, in September. City councils in the region have been refusing to collect trash, complaining that the state has not found workable alternatives.

In a meeting on Monday with Prime Minister Najla Bouden and Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine, Saied called for an urgent solution to the Sfax rubbish crisis.

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

Several ministries are involved in the issue, creating gaps such as municipalities refusing to collect medical waste.

Residents and activists in he industrial hub of Sfax have warned of an “environmental catastrophe” as mountains of uncollected garbage litters the streets of the Mediterranean port city.

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