The city of Ben Guerdane (Governorate of Medenine) observed a general strike on Wednesday, May 11, called by the Regional chapter of the Tunisian General Trade Union (UGTT) in Medenine following a day of protests on Monday after 36 vehicles transporting gasoline from Libya were prevented by the Tunisian Army from entering the city.
The vehicles were part of a group of around a hundred vehicles returning from Libya which were initially stopped, although the majority of the vehicles were eventually allowed through, in the ensuing hours protesters in Ben Guerdane blocked roads, burned tires and occupied the municipal government offices headquarters forcing local officials to be evacuated under police escort .
On Tuesday while announcing plans for the general strike the UGTT’s regional secretary general, Mohsen Lachiheb, called the continued holding of the vehicles carrying gasoline ‘irresponsible’ considering the army had allowed other vehicles carrying other merchandise to pass.
When Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid visited the head of the Libyan Presidency Council, Faiez Serraj at the Bu Setta naval base in Tripoli, last week one, of the topics of discussion was reopening the Ras Jedir border crossing to commercial traffic. One of the chief concerns on the Libyan side was preventing the smuggling of gasoline, heavily subsidized in Libya, into Tunisia.
It is the second general strike in less than a month in the city which is economically almost entirely dependent on trade, legal and contraband, with Libya.
The last general strike came after Libyan authorities, once loyal to General National Congress Prime Minister Khalifah Gwhell now pledged to the Presidency Council of Faiez Serraj, and currently in control of the Ras Jedir border crossing between Tunisia and Libya decided on Thursday, April 28 to close all traffic in both directions. Hafedh Maamar, a Libyan official at the border crossing quoted by Tunis Afrique Presse said “The decision was taken due to the ongoing blocking of roads to Libyan cars and trucks by traders in Ben Guerdane.”
There have been repeated closures of commercial traffic at the Tunisian-Libyan border in recent years, including two fifteen day closures in the last seven months by the Tunisian authorities. The first after a suicide bomb attack in Tunis in November and the second after the March 7 attack on the city Ben Guerdane itself. Since the March closure, commercial traffic has only sporadically resumed.