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Tunisia intercepts 2,500 migrants, arrests dozens of smugglers in 4 days

FILE PHOTO: Migrant from Guinea, Paldy Soulima, sits with other migrants in a public garden in Sfax

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - The Tunisian coastguard said on Tuesday it had intercepted more than 2,500 migrants and arrested dozens of human smugglers following a major crackdown launched last weekend in the coastal region of Sfax, a main departure point for migrants heading to Italy.

The operation, which included hundreds of security forces supported by anti-terrorism units, planes and police dogs, was ordered by President Kais Saied, who cited an "unacceptable influx of migrants".

The Italian island of Lampedusa is struggling with a record number of landings by boat migrants crossing from North Africa.

Almost 10,000 migrants reached Lampedusa last week, dealing a blow to the credibility of right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who won office last year vowing to curb illegal immigration.

A Tunisia national guard statement on Tuesday said that 62 human smugglers were arrested and dozens of boats had been seized in its operation. It also prevented about 1,900 sub-Saharan African migrants who tried to enter Tunisia across the land border, the statement said.

Most migrants arrive across the land border from Algeria.

The Tunisian coast guard recovered 920 bodies of drowned migrants off its coast from Jan. 1 to the end of August this year, Interior Ministry officials said.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; editing by Grant McCool)