Court frees Tunisian presidential candidate Nabil Karoui

Nabil Karoui is one of two candidates in the final round of the election (AFP/File photo)
Updated 10 October 2019

Court frees Tunisian presidential candidate Nabil Karoui

  • Media mogul receives a hero’s welcome as he walks free from jail Wednesday night
  • Karoui is running against conservative law professor Kais Saied on Sunday in the second round of voting

TUNIS: Tunisia’s jailed presidential candidate Nabil Karoui received a hero’s welcome as he walked free from jail Wednesday night, just days ahead of a runoff vote that he will contest against a rival political newcomer.
An AFP journalist outside Mornaguia prison near Tunis saw throngs of the media mogul’s supporters waving Tunisia’s red-and-white flag and Karoui campaign banners as they jubilantly cheered for him.
An elated Karoui then left the scene in a black Mercedes, and drove off without speaking to the press.
The release, which came hours ahead of final results from parliamentary polls, is the latest twist in a shock election dominated by political outsiders in the country whose 2011 revolution sparked the Arab Spring regional uprisings.
The Court of Cassation’s decision to release Karoui, a business tycoon who has been detained since August over a money laundering probe, also comes ahead of Sunday’s final presidential vote.
The results from last week’s parliamentary poll are expected to reap a legislature riven by divisions, with Islamist-inspired Ennahda likely to win the largest number of seats, but still falling far short of a majority.
Karoui’s lawyer Kamel Ben Messoud earlier said the court had “annulled the detention order” against his client.
Another of his lawyers, Nazih Souei, said Karoui remains under investigation, “but he is free.”

Karoui is running against conservative law professor Kais Saied on Sunday in the second round of voting.
Saied had announced last weekend he was quitting campaigning in order to avoid an unfair advantage over Karoui.
The sidelining of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring political class in the September 15 presidential first round was rooted in frustration over a stagnant economy, high unemployment, failing public services and rising prices.
While it has succeeded in curbing jihadist attacks that rocked the key tourist sector in 2015, Tunisia’s economy remains hampered by austere International Monetary Fund-backed reforms.
With the electorate tired of political manoeuvring and the failure to improve living conditions since the ouster of late longtime autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, political newcomers Karoui and Saeid have taken the lead.

Previous requests to release Karoui had been turned down and he has branded his arrest as “political.”
Despite being behind bars, he won 15.6 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential poll.
The party he founded six months ago, Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) appears set to come second behind Ennahda in the parliamentary poll.
To date, Karoui had been forced to campaign by proxy — through his wife and the Nessma TV channel he founded.
And while his release comes as a surprise, it remains uncertain what impact it will have on his bid for the presidency.


US to pull last troops from north Syria

Updated 14 October 2019

US to pull last troops from north Syria

  • The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria
  • Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of US’s Kurdish-led ally the Syrian Democratic Forces

WASHINGTON/BEIRUT: The United States said on Sunday it will withdraw its remaining 1,000 troops from northern Syria in the face of an expanding Turkish offensive while Syria’s army struck a deal with Kurdish forces to redeploy along its border with Turkey, both major victories for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The developments illustrate Washington’s waning influence over events in Syria and the failure of the US policy of keeping Assad from reasserting state authority over areas lost during the more than eight-year conflict with rebels trying to end his rule.
The developments also represent wins for Russia and Iran, which have backed Assad since 2011 when his violent effort to crush what began as peaceful protests against his family’s decades-long rule of Syria exploded into a full-blown civil war.
While the US withdrawal moves American troops out of the line of fire, the return of Syrian soldiers to the Turkish border opens up the possibility of a wider conflagration should the Syrian army come in direct conflict with Turkish forces.
The Turkish onslaught in northern Syria has also raised the prospect that Daesh militants and their families held by the Kurdish forces targeted by Turkey may escape — scores were said to have done so already — and permit the group’s revival.
The remarkable turn of events was set in motion a week ago when US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw about 50 special operations forces from two outposts in northern Syria, a step widely seen as paving the way for Turkey to launch its week-long incursion against Kurdish militia in the region.
Turkey aims to neutralize the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of Washington’s Kurdish-led ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been a key US ally in dismantling the “caliphate” set up by Daesh militants in Syria.
Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday said the offensive would extend from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east and extend some 30 kilometers into Syrian territory, with the town of Ras al Ain now in Turkish control.
US Defense Secretary Mike Esper said the United States decided to withdraw its roughly 1,000 troops in northern Syria — two US officials told Reuters it could pull the bulk out in days — after learning of the deepening Turkish offensive.
It was unclear what would happen to the several hundred US troops at the American military outpost of Tanf, near Syria’s southern border with Iraq and Jordan.
Another factor behind the decision, Esper indicated in an interview with the CBS program “Face the Nation,” was that the SDF aimed to make a deal with Russia and Syria to counter the Turkish onslaught. Several hours later, the Kurdish-led administration said it had struck just such an agreement for the Syrian army to deploy along the length of the border with Turkey to help repel Ankara’s offensive.
The deployment would help the SDF in countering “this aggression and liberating the areas that the Turkish army and mercenaries had entered,” it added, referring to Turkey-backed Syrian rebels, and would also allow for the liberation of other Syrian cities occupied by the Turkish army such as Afrin.
The fighting has sparked Western concerns that the SDF, holding large swathes of northern Syria once controlled by Daesh, would be unable to keep thousands of militants in jail and tens of thousands of their family members in camps.