Tunisian FM resigns as country faces migrant exodus

February 15, 2011

TUNIS (AFP) – As Tunisia marked Monday a month since the ousting of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the interim government battled European pressure to curb an exodus of migrants and a key minister quit.

Ahmed Ounaies resigned Sunday in a blow to the new authority a day before a visit by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to focus on democratic reforms since the removal of the strongman leader in a popular uprising.
The interim government meanwhile rushed security forces to coastal areas to stop a Europe-bound exodus of people fleeing poverty, a government source said, with thousands of immigrants flooding to Italy in recent days.
Maritime security ""have arrested many people trying to cross the borders. Reinforcements have been sent,"" said the official on grounds of anonymity, refusing to disclose further details.
Immigration will likely be a top issue in talks Monday between Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and Ashton, after Italy appealed for urgent EU aid to halt a wave of North African immigrants.
Some 5,000 undocumented migrants, many of them Tunisians, have arrived to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa over the last five days alone.
Tunisian authorities have also arrested between 1,000 and 1,500 would-be immigrants in recent days, the Effadeh daily reported, citing security sources.