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Rescuers Search For Survivors of Tunisian Boat Accident - 2003-06-21

Tunisian rescue workers are searching the Mediterranean for survivors, after a boat carrying about 250 would-be immigrants from Africa to Europe capsized and sank. Forty one people have been rescued, 12 have been confirmed dead and nearly 200 are missing.

Tunisian officials say the overloaded boat sank Friday in bad weather, about 110 kilometers southeast of the Tunisian city of Sfax.

They say the boat was among several rickety vessels on route to Italy that were discovered off Tunisian shores in the past few days. Earlier this week, seven would-be immigrants drowned off the North African coast after their ship capsized.

Illegal immigration to Italy, nearly 3,000 have arrived so far this month, prompted one government minister to call for tougher measures, including sending out Italian naval gunships, to halt immigration.

Many such immigrant-filled boats leave from Libya, whose leader Muammar Gaddafi has warned European leaders that the only way to stem illegal immigration is to help alleviate Africa's poverty by providing investments and jobs.

Tunisia and Morocco, due to their proximity to the Italian and Spanish coasts, have become crossing points for thousands of impoverished Africans trying to start new lives in Europe.

They risk their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean, often in makeshift or inflatable boats.