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Tunisia: Killing of young cigarette seller stirs social tensions

Customs agent shoots dead 21-year-old Mohsen Zeyani over suspicion of smuggling cigarettes
A large crowd of people gathered outside the Charles Nicolle Hospital, where Mohsen Zeyani died late on Wednesday (social media)

Tunisia on Thursday opened an investigation into the death of a young Tunisian killed in broad daylight by a customs officer over suspicion of smuggling cigarettes, in an incident that has triggered widespread public anger.

Mohsen Zeyani, 23, died in hospital late Wednesday after customs officers shot at a car carrying contraband cigarettes during a raid on contraband smugglers in the Passage district of Tunis, multiple media reports said.

One widely shared video showed a customs agent firing at a car and another showed Zeyani lying on the ground as people attempted to save him, amidst loud screams in the background.

A large crowd of people gathered alongside Zeyani’s family outside the Charles Nicolle Hospital in Tunis, where he died. Local media reported protests in several districts of the capital.

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The customs service said in a statement that one of its patrols had "fired warning shots into the air and at the tyres" of the car after a "crowd of smugglers" threw projectiles at officers.

One member of the patrol was "badly wounded" in the head, the statement said.

The entire patrol was remanded in custody pending the completion of the investigation, it added.

Tunisians have been on the edge as they struggle through high inflation, rampant youth unemployment and shortages of basic goods including sugar, flour and cooking oil.

Since President Kais Saied staged a dramatic power grab in July last year, civil society groups have accused the security services of resorting to similar tactics to those used under autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted in a 2011 revolution.

The revolt that toppled Ben Ali was sparked by the self-immolation of a young street trader after his goods were seized by police.

Anti-corruption watchdog I Watch condemned the security services, saying Zeyani's death was "a scene of barbarism and infamy that will haunt this police state".

AFP contributed to this report.

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