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Crisis-hit Tunisia urges 'more understanding' from Europe

— Tunis (AFP)

Tunisia on Monday called for "constructive discourse" from the European Union after a string of leaders warned the country is facing a crisis that could impact the 27-member bloc.

In a statement after meeting EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni in Tunis, Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar said he had "invited the European side to show more understanding of this particular phase through which our country is going".

He also called on Europe "to adopt a responsible and constructive discourse reflecting the reality" in the country.

Ammar stressed that Tunisia "relies first on the mobilisation of own resources, and on the economic and financial support of its partners, including the EU, for the success of the process of political, economic and social reforms".

Tunisia, heavily indebted and facing high inflation and unemployment, has been negotiating for several months with the International Monetary Fund for a loan worth nearly $2 billion, but discussions appear to have stalled since an agreement in principle announced in mid-October.

In recent days, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell have issued dire warnings over Tunisia's financial state and the risks an economic collapse could spark a flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

Migrants from across Africa and Tunisia itself regularly use Tunisia's coastline, less than 150 kilometres (90 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa, as a springboard for attempts to reach Europe.

Several dozen migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have died in a series of shipwrecks in recent weeks and others remain missing at sea.

Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa say their lives in Tunisia have become unbearable since President Kais Saied made an incendiary speech last month accusing sub-Saharan African migrants of representing a demographic threat and causing a crime wave.

Saied, who since 2021 has sacked the government and seized far-reaching powers in moves rivals liken to a coup against the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings, has faced muted criticism from western leaders.

In a statement later on Monday, Gentiloni said his visit was a chance to "reaffirm our attachment to the values of democracy, inclusion and the rule of law".

"The European Commission remains determined to support the Tunisian people in the current extremely difficult economic context," the statement added.

He said the Commission was "ready to consider additional macro-financial assistance", but only once an IMF deal is reached.

"It is essential that this can take place as soon as possible," the statement said.

"We wish to continue in this dynamic of cooperation: Tunisia will not be abandoned."