Tunisia rallies after a “black day,” president’s health improves

Updated 28 June 2019

Tunisia rallies after a “black day,” president’s health improves

  • Normal life appeared to be returning
  • “We are not afraid, we will not give up”

TUNIS: Tunisia’s president is recovering his health and speaking to colleagues, authorities said on Friday, signalling a return to normality after a turbulent 24 hours in which the elderly leader fell ill and militants staged attacks in the capital.
President Beji Caid Essebsi, 92, a major player in the North African country’s transition to democracy following a 2011 revolution, was taken to a military hospital on Thursday after suffering a “severe health crisis.”
His health emergency coincided with attacks by two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in Tunis, killing one officer and wounding several others.
The attacks, claimed by Daesh, took place months before an election and at the peak of a tourist season in which Tunisia is hoping for a record number of visitors.
Alarmed by the spate of troubling news, many Tunisians described Thursday as a “black day.”
But on Friday, normal life appeared to be returning.
Shops reopened in Charles De Gaulle, a commercial street, and cafes were crowded in the main Habib Bourguiba street. Tourists and Tunisians alike wandered the markets as normal.
“We are not afraid, we will not give up,” said a woman who gave her name as Sana.
“We will continue our lives and our democracy, which frightens them.”
Tourism Minister Rene Trabelsi told reporters that the incident would not affect tourism in the country, adding that tourist sites were under tight security surveillance.
“Desperate act”
The presidency spokeswoman said Essebsi’s health had improved significantly and he had called the defense minister to discuss the situation in the country.
Essebsi has been a prominent figure in Tunisia since the overthrow of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which was followed by uprisings against autocratic leaders across the Middle East.
On Friday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed played down the impact of the attacks and said it was a “desperate act of the collapse of terrorist groups.”
Tunisia has battled militant groups operating in remote areas near the border with Algeria since the 2011 uprising. High unemployment has also stoked unrest in recent years.
Security has improved since authorities imposed a state of emergency in November 2015 after dozens died in militant attacks earlier that year — one at a museum in Tunis and another on a beach in Sousse. A third attack targeted presidential guards in the capital and killed 12. Daesh claimed responsibility.
Those actions scared off holidaymakers and investors, worsening an economic crisis.
But this year Tunisia expects to receive a million tourists for the first time, seeking to restore confidence in its ability to protect its lifeline tourist income.
Essebsi’s health episode raised questions on social media about the management of the country in the event that the post president became vacant unexpectedly. But Nourredine Benticha, a top adviser to Essebsi, said there would be no constitutional vacancy.
Parliamentary elections are expected to be held on Oct. 6 with a presidential vote following on Nov. 17.


Algerian court jails protesters over election

Updated 19 November 2019

Algerian court jails protesters over election

ALGIERS: An Algerian court has jailed four protesters for 18 months for disrupting a candidate’s campaign for the Dec. 12 presidential election which is opposed by a mass protest movement.
The court sentenced the four on Monday after protests on Sunday in the western city of Tlemcen, where one of the five candidates, Ali Benflis, was campaigning. No details were available on what their exact actions were.
Algeria’s authorities are trying to quell a protest movement that erupted in February to demand the departure of the country’s ruling hierarchy, an end to corruption and the army’s withdrawal from politics.
The army, which has emerged as the most powerful institution in the country, has pushed for next month’s election as a means to end the protests and restore normality. The former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, quit in April.
The judgment comes a week after a series of other prison sentences were handed down to protesters who had raised flags with Berber symbols during earlier demonstrations.
Several opposition leaders have also been held during the protests, and charged with contributing to damaging army morale.
However, the authorities have also detained numerous current and former senior officials on corruption charges, and have jailed some of them including the once untouchable former intelligence chief.
The protesters have rejected any presidential election carried out now, saying the continued presence of Bouteflika allies in the upper echelons of the government mean it cannot be free or fair.
Human Rights Watch said last week that the arrest of scores of protesters looked like “part of a pattern of trying to weaken opposition to Algeria’s interim rulers and their determination to hold presidential elections.”