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Italy’s Meloni to return to Tunisia, hopes for IMF deal

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By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday she would travel to Tunisia at the weekend with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, highlighting EU concern over the situation there.

Meloni visited Tunisia on Tuesday looking to make progress in unblocking loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the north African state.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Rome with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Meloni said she was confident a deal could be reached between the IMF and Tunisia.

“I think Sunday’s trip could facilitate” an agreement, she said.

Italy is concerned that without the funds, Tunisia faces a full-blown financial crisis that could push a fresh wave of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe.

“The destabilisation of Tunisia would have serious repercussions on the stability of the whole of North Africa … and those repercussions would also reach us,” Meloni said.

“For us, clearly, addressing the current situation in Tunisia with pragmatism is a priority,” she added.

Talks between Tunisia and the IMF for a $1.9 billion loan have been stalled for months, with Tunisian President Kais Saied rejecting key terms for the proposed deal.

Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree. He has shown little interest in economic policy except to blame Tunisia’s problems on corruption.

In February, he told security forces to expel all illegal immigrants, denouncing what he said was a conspiracy to change Tunisia’s demographics by making it more African and less Arab.

The resulting crackdown helped fuel a surge in migrant departures towards Italy. About 26,555 of the 51,215 boat migrants who reached Italy so far this year had set sail from Tunisia, the latest United Nations data shows, against 3,658 in the same period of 2022.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alvise Armellini)

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