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Tunisia PM fires top minister amid alarm over migrant deaths

June 6, 2018
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In this photo dated Monday, June 4, 2018, women wait to receive the bodies of loved ones after the sinking of a boat carrying migrants the previous day, in the coastal city of Sfax, Tunisia. Tunisia's interior minister has fired 10 security officials amid an investigation into the sinking of a boat carrying migrants trying to reach Europe that left an estimated 112 dead or missing. (AP Photo)

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Wednesday fired his interior minister amid recriminations over a capsized boat of migrants off the coast of the North African country in the deadliest shipwreck this year on the dangerous Mediterranean Sea route to Europe.

The announcement did not say why Lotfi Brahem was fired but came a day after Brahem dismissed 10 high-level security officials amid an investigation into the weekend disaster. An estimated 112 people were known to be dead or missing.

Officials have cited “security failures” surrounding the capsizing early Sunday of the old, overloaded boat near Kerkennah Island off the coast of the city of Sfax. The boat was carrying an estimated 180 people.

Among those fired based on preliminary investigations into the sinking are the heads of the judicial police and National Guard in Sfax and the head of the maritime border patrol in Kerkennah.

Authorities have said eight smugglers have been linked to the capsizing — all of them from Kerkennah — and police were trying to hunt them down.

As in other North African countries, desperate youth and even entire families are known to set off from Tunisia to attempt the risky Mediterranean crossing. The high number of deaths in the latest disaster, however, sparked criticism of the security apparatus. In October, a collision between a migrant boat and Navy vessel left 45 migrants dead.

Police oversight in Kerkennah has been reduced following clashes several months ago between officers and protesters seeking jobs at a company extracting oil at a field in the area.

The spokesman for the interior ministry, Khalifa Chibani, has said police forces would be reposted to the island “very shortly.”

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