Tunisians began casting votes in an unpredictable presidential election on Sunday, where there is no overwhelming front-runner, with the young democracy’s economic ills dominating the agenda.
Polling stations opened at 8.00 a.m. (0700 GMT) from the capital Tunis on the Mediterranean coastline to the cork forests of the northwest, the mining towns of the interior and sand-swept Saharan villages in the south.
Tunisia threw off autocratic rule eight years ago in a revolution that inspired “Arab Spring” revolts in Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria, but it alone has enjoyed a smooth, peaceful transition to democracy.
While foreign attention, especially in Arab countries, is focused on the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, many Tunisians are watching the fate of media mogul Nabil Karoui, running from behind bars on suspicion of money laundering and tax evasion, which he denies.
A court on Friday ruled he must stay behind bars after his arrest last month, leading his supporters to claim he has been silenced.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, as well as two former prime ministers, a former president and the defence minister are also among the 26 candidates hoping to win outright or, if none of them win more than 50 per cent, to advance to a second round run-off.
Tunisia’s president has direct control over foreign and defence policy while most other portfolios are handled by a prime minister chosen by parliament.
Elections for the parliament will be held on Oct. 6. (Reuters/)
Edited by Abdulfatah Babatunde
Tunisian president thanks China for anti-epidemic assistance
Tunisian President Kais Saied on Wednesday thanked China for its vigorous support and assistance for Tunisia’s economic and social development, as well as providing multiple batches of medical supplies to help his country combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saied made the remarks during a meeting with outgoing Chinese Ambassador Wang Wenbin at the presidential palace.
Tunisia admires China’s achievements and China‘s speed, Saied said, expressing his confidence that cooperation between the two countries is promising, and that bilateral relations will become a model of international relations with the joint efforts of both sides.
He said that in recent years, with the care of the leaders of the two countries, bilateral cooperation has continuously achieved new results and there is a window of opportunity for its further development.
China will continue to work actively to deepen the friendly cooperation between the two countries on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefits, the ambassador said.
Tunisian PM says urgent solutions needed for economic recovery
Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh on Wednesday said the economic and financial situation requires urgent solutions to guarantee economic recovery over the next nine months.
The solutions also aim to supply the state budget for the 2020 financial year, the minister said during a meeting with government members and a delegation from the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), according to Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).
Fakhfakh stressed that the next period “dictates supporting companies to deal with the repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis, preserving jobs, developing the pace of growth, strengthening companies’ capacities and seizing opportunities laid down by economic changes at regional and international levels.”
Fakhfakh emphasised the need to develop a strategic vision concerning an economic recovery plan.
“The plan must be based on practical and achievable solutions to reach a phase of real reforms that have been blocked for years,” TAP quoted Fakhfakh as saying.
For his part, UTICA President Samir Majoul said the union presented its vision of the current economic and social situation and the possible mechanisms to assist companies in order to address the crisis.
Earlier during the day, Tunisian minister in charge of major national projects Lobna Jribi announced the main lines of the third phase of the national strategy for partially lifting the coronavirus lockdown, which will start on Thursday.
She announced that mosques, all worship places, hotels and restaurants will reopen on June 4.
Travel between all Tunisian governorates will resume without authorization, said Jribi.
Tunisian defense minister, British ambassador discuss Libyan crisis
Tunisian Defense Minister Imed Hazgui received on Wednesday British Ambassador to Tunisia Louise De Sousa at the ministry’s headquarters in the capital Tunis, reported Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).
The meeting focused on ways to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries as well as developments on the regional scene.
The Tunisian minister stressed the need to promote military cooperation and to diversify its components in an atmosphere of mutual trust.
Hazgui reiterated Tunisia’s position which calls for a rapid and comprehensive solution to the crisis in Libya via national dialogue and within the framework of respect for international legitimacy.
“The solution to the Libyan crisis should be based on the agreement of all its factions away from any foreign interference,” TAP quoted the minister as saying.
She affirmed her country’s readiness to strengthen the capacities of the Tunisian army in all areas and to promote cooperation between the two countries.
Tunisian PM says gov’t committed to push forward reforms
Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh affirmed Wednesday that the government is determined to move forward on the path of major reforms, in particular the digitization of public administration.
Fakhfakh made the remarks at a ceremony held at the headquarters of the government in capital Tunis on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, also stressing the importance of “preparing well for the post–coronavirus phase.”
So far, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country stood at 1,051.
The Tunisian government has imposed strict confinement measures shortly after the announcement of the first coronavirus case on March 2.
Tunisian PM vows to exit COVID-19 outbreak with slightest damage
Tunisian Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on Sunday that his country is preparing to exit the stage of COVID-19 outbreak with the slightest damage.
The official TAP news agency quoted the prime minister as saying that “Tunisia, which has succeeded in controlling COVID-19, is about to exit from the outbreak stage with the slightest damage after registering more than 1,000 cases and most them have recovered.”
He also stressed the continuation of the national effort to fight against COVID-19 during the summer period.
As of May 24, Tunisia reported a total of 1,048 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 48 deaths.
The government has imposed strict confinement measures shortly after the announcement of the first coronavirus case in the country on March 2.
Tunisian PM unveils post-coronavirus economic recovery plan
The program is based on strengthening national sovereignty and security, preserving the economic fabric, working to revitalize the most affected sectors and fighting against corruption and impunity.
“This program will be presented to the parliament at the end of next month,” said Fakhfakh, stressing that the government will work hard to mobilize the country’s own resources to boost the economy.
The prime minister called upon all Tunisians to preserve the gains attained during the first phase of partial lifting of lockdown and to respect all measures taken by the government to combat COVID-19.
On May 4, Tunisia started the first stage of the national strategy for partial lifting of lockdown which includes three stages, from May 4 to 24, from May 24 to June 4 and from June 4 to 14.
On Tuesday, one new COVID-19 case and one more death were reported in Tunisia, bringing the total number of cases to 1,044 with 47 deaths.
The number of recoveries rose to 826, according to the Ministry of Health.
Tunisian government imposes curfew to curb spread of COVID-19
Tunisians do shopping ahead of Eid al-Fitr in Tunis, Tunisia
Tunisians do shopping ahead of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim feast holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Tunis, Tunisia, May 19, 2020. (Photo by Adel Ezzine/Xinhua)
Tunisian minister warns against 2nd wave of coronavirus outbreak
Tunisian Health Minister Abdellatif Mekki warned on Wednesday that her country is “not immune to a second wave of the novel coronavirus epidemic.”
“We have managed to control the first wave of this pandemic, but it remains a temporary and sensitive result as it depends on citizens’ conduct and commitment during the next period,” Mekki said at a press conference at the government’s headquarters in the capital Tunis.
The health ministry will keep on identifying suspected cases to prevent a second wave, he added.
“Thanks to the national strategy, Tunisia has been able to avoid more than 25,000 infections and more than 1,000 deaths,” Mekki said.
Earlier in the day, Lobna Jribi, Tunisian Minister in charge of major national projects, announced that the nationwide lockdown measures will be phased out starting May 4.
However, people over 65, children under 15, pregnant women, and those with immune deficiency are excluded.
Tunisia has so far reported 975 COVID-19 cases.
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