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Kais Saied, Tunisia’s president, at the European Union-Africa Union Summit in Brussels on Feb. 17, 2022.

Kais Saied, Tunisia’s president, at the European Union-Africa Union Summit in Brussels on Feb. 17, 2022. (Valeria Mongelli/Bloomberg )

Tunisian bakers called a one-day strike amid growing discontent in the cash-strapped North African country that's trying to secure an International Monetary Fund deal and saw major fuel shortages this month.

The bakers' guild's call for the protest comes on the heels of an unprecedented fuel shortage earlier this month, raising concerns among Tunisians that months of scarcity in key staples such cooking oil, subsidized wheat flour and pasta will be getting worse.

Tunisia is heavily reliant on food and energy imports, and its economy has also been hit by unrest amid the worst political tensions in a decade. Last week, the central bank surprised markets with an interest-rate hike that added to the difficulties of a government that has increasingly been turning to domestic money markets to raise funds while it holds talks over a new loan program with the IMF.

Authorities are already facing opposition by the powerful UGTT trade union over plans to substantially reduce subsidies on key items such as bread and electricity for most Tunisians and to cut spending on a bloated public sector. Authorities are hoping to get between $2 billion and $4 billion from the IMF and an agreement will be crucial to shoring up the finances of a country that's been on investors' default watch list for months.

The U.S. on Thursday announced $60 million in "rapid assistance" to help the poorest Tunisians, while the country tapped its "security reserves" of refined oil products this month mostly because international prices are high, the head of the country's sole refiner told Mosaique FM on Thursday.

The nation's bakers' guild called on its members to stage a sit-in on Oct. 18 and not produce bread that day, local media reported, citing the guild's treasurer Al-Sadek Alhaboubi. The group is pressing authorities over the non-payment of state subsidies for bread for 14 months and also over insufficient supply of wheat flour, he said.

President Kais Saied on Tuesday suggested that some shortages may be artificial as he urged his prime minister to "maintain the continuity of public services and the administration's primary role in meeting the needs of citizens." He also stressed "the need to rationalize expenditure."

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