Tunisia presidential hopeful walks free from jail in time for runoff

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Tunisian presidential candidate and media mogul Nabil Karoui, waves as he is greeted by jubilant crowds after he was released from prison in Mannouba, Tunisia, on Oct. 9, 2019, just four days before the upcoming presidential runoff election. (AP Photo)
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Tunisian presidential candidate and media mogul Nabil Karoui, center, is greeted by jubilant crowds after he was released from prison in Mannouba, Tunisia, on Oct. 9, 2019, just four days before the upcoming presidential runoff election. (AP Photo)
Updated 10 October 2019

Tunisia presidential hopeful walks free from jail in time for runoff

  • Nabil Karoui's Heturn to the arena as a free man comes at a time of uncertainty for the country hailed as the sole democratic success story of the "Arab Spring"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s presidential candidate Nabil Karoui received a hero’s welcome as he walked free from jail Wednesday, just days ahead of a runoff against a political newcomer.
Karoui’s release is the latest twist in a shock election dominated by political outsiders in the country whose 2011 revolution sparked a wave of regional uprisings.
His return to the arena as a free man comes at a time of uncertainty for the country hailed as the sole democratic success story of the "Arab Spring".
An AFP journalist outside Mornaguia prison near Tunis saw a throng of media mogul Karoui’s supporters waving Tunisia’s red-and-white flag and campaign banners as they jubilantly cheered for him.
An elated Karoui then left the scene in a black Mercedes, without speaking to the press.
The Court of Cassation’s decision to free Karoui, a business tycoon who has been detained since August over a money laundering probe, comes ahead of Sunday’s final presidential vote.
Despite being behind bars, he won 15.6 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential poll.
The runoff comes as Tunisia appears poised for complex, rowdy negotiations to form a government.
Announced shortly after Karoui’s release, preliminary results of last Sunday’s legislative election showed Islamist-inspired party Ennahda came out on top with 52 out of 217 seats — far short of the 109 needed to govern.
Karoui’s Qalb Tounes party placed second with 38 seats.
In the run-up to the parliamentary poll, Ennahda and Qalb Toues had officially ruled out forming an alliance.
The abstention rate was 58.6 percent, nearly double that of the last legislative polls in 2014, despite the post-revolution constitution putting parliament at the heart of political power.
TV pundits contend that the high abstention rate is not only a mark of voter apathy, but also a repudiation of the parties taking part.
It was a similar sense of rejection of the establishment that catapulted political newcomers Karoui and rival contender conservative law professor Kais Saeid to the lead in the September 15 presidential first round.
The sidelining of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring political class in the vote was rooted in frustration over a stagnant economy, high unemployment, failing public services and rising prices.
While the country has succeeded in curbing jihadist attacks that rocked the key tourist sector in 2015, its economy remains hampered by austere International Monetary Fund-backed reforms.
Saied had announced last weekend he was quitting campaigning in order to avoid an unfair advantage over Karoui.
With the contenders now free to campaign on a level playing field, the pair will face off in a televised debate Friday, one of the organizers told AFP.
The debate is expected to begin at 9:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) should Karoui confirm his presence, national television channel Wataniya said.
Wataniya has also invited Karoui for an on-screen interview Thursday.
Previous requests to release Karoui had been turned down and he has branded his arrest as “political.”
Karoui’s lawyer Kamel Ben Messoud on Wednesday said the Court of Cassation had “annulled the detention order” against his client.
Another of his lawyers, Nazih Souei, said Karoui remains under investigation, “but he is free.”


Leaked audio of Assad forces shooting elderly women in Idlib proves civilian killings: Report

Updated 34 min 4 sec ago

Leaked audio of Assad forces shooting elderly women in Idlib proves civilian killings: Report

  • Syrian regime also attacked Turkish military posts in violation of cease-fire deal

LONDON: Syrian regime forces deliberately killed elderly women in the northwestern region of Idlib, leaked recordings obtained by the UK’s Daily Telegraph have shown.

The audio recordings from Feb. 11 also suggest that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked Turkish military posts in violation of a cease-fire deal.

The recordings captured a conversation between soldiers from the infamous elite Tiger Forces, the 25th Division, tracking a vehicle driving into the village of Mizanaz, to the west of Aleppo.

In the audio, intercepted by spotters at an observatory in the local area who picked up the soldiers’ frequency, one soldier can be heard saying: “There are women driving, their car is stuck in the mud and they’re headed to a battlefield.”

 

 

A second soldier said: “She looks elderly. It’s clear she’s coming to pack her belongings, then she’s leaving.”

Despite a clear identification of the women, one of the soldiers is heard saying: “I’m watching them. They’re about to enter a house. Yallah, I’m firing now.”

At that point, rapid machine gun fire can be heard on the tape. “Fire, fire, I’m observing for you,” the second soldier replies.

Local media reports from the time and date of the audio recording support the assertion that the women were killed in the attack.

Regime forces have used attacks on civilians as part of their strategy to clear rebel-held areas of the country, while attacking civilian institutions such as schools and hospitals. 

In September 2019, pro-Assad militants reportedly executed an elderly woman who refused to leave her home when it was confiscated after they recaptured the town of Khan Sheikhoun. 

According to figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, regime forces and their Russian allies are responsible for 90 percent of civilian deaths in the nine-year conflict, with three-quarters of those people victims of artillery or aerial shelling. The deliberate killing of non-combatants is a war crime under international law.

The Telegraph’s report also revealed recordings showing regime forces actively attacking Turkish posts in Idlib province that were set up as part of a de-escalation deal negotiated with Russia in 2018.

The attacks prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday to urge his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “restrain” Assad’s advance in Idlib.