Tunisia candidate refuses to concede

Moncef Marzouki has refused to admit defeat in Tunisia’s first free presidential election after exit polls suggested Beji Caid Essebsi had won.

The caretaker president, a former exile, said his rival’s declaration of victory was “undemocratic”.

Mr Essebsi, 88, has been celebrating with supporters, telling them all Tunisians now need to “work together”, and promising to bring stability.

Critics say his success marks the return of a discredited establishment.

Official results are not expected until Monday evening. One exit poll gave Mr Essebsi 55.5%, with several others showing similar figures.

The election marks the last stage of Tunisia’s move to democracy, after the 2011 overthrow of President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali.

It is the first time Tunisians have been able vote freely for their president since independence from France in 1956.


Mr Marzouki, a 67-year-old human rights activist forced into exile by the Ben Ali government, said the election was too early to call.

“The announcement of victory is undemocratic and we should wait if we want to be a state that respects the rule of law,” he told supporters.

“What I want to tell you is that we are victorious, we are victorious , we are victorious. Tunisia has won and you have won. You have won for Tunisia, for democracy and for human rights.”

Mr Marzouki has been interim president since 2011 and is more popular in the conservative, poorer south.

He was thought likely to attract support from the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which has played a key role in Tunisian politics since the Arab Spring but did not field a candidate.

Coastal candidate

Mr Essebsi appeared on television after polls closed on Sunday, saying: “I dedicate my victory to the martyrs of Tunisia.”

“I thank Marzouki, and now we should work together without excluding anyone,” he added.

Supporters danced and let off fireworks outside the headquarters of Mr Essebsi’s secular-leaning Nidaa Tounes party.

Mr Essebsi held office under both deposed President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali and Tunisia’s first post-independence leader, Habib Bourguiba.

He led in the first round of voting last month with 39% of the vote. Mr Marzouki polled 33%.

He is popular in the wealthy, coastal regions, and based his appeal to voters on stability and experience.

Reduced role

Whoever wins faces restricted powers under a constitution passed earlier this year.

The president will be commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can appoint or sack senior officers only in consultation with the prime minister.

The president will also set foreign policy in consultation with the prime minister, represent the state and ratify treaties.

Tunisia boosted security for the elections and closed border posts with Libya, which has been plagued by unrest.

A group of at least three attackers targeted a polling station near the city of Kairouan on Sunday morning. Security forces say they killed one attacker and arrested three.

Source: BBC


Tunisian president testifies in probe of politician’s murder

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki testified on Thursday before a judge probing the murder of opposition leader Chokri Belaid, as police narrowed their hunt for his killer to an area near the border with Algeria.

The shooting of secular politician Belaid by a suspected Islamist radical on February 6 provoked the biggest street protests in Tunisia since the overthrow of strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali two years ago.

Secular parties later withdrew their support for Islamist-backed Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, forcing the collapse of his coalition government.

Marzouki, who leads one of Tunisia’s main secular parties, was called to testify because he had warned Belaid in January of a death threat against him and offered him police protection, local media reported.

Secularists had long complained that Jebali’s government was too tolerant of religious radicals emboldened by the fall of Ben Ali, whose government spent decades suppressing Islamists.

A swift arrest and trial of Belaid’s killer could calm the political turmoil that has stalled efforts to rebuild an economy hit hard by the 2011 uprising.

“The investigating judge at the Court of Tunis heard on Thursday morning President Moncef Marzouki as a witness in the case of Chokri Belaid’s assassination,” the presidency said in a statement.

The interview took place at the Carthage Palace, the head of state’s official residence.

It was the first time a Tunisian president had taken the witness stand in a judicial investigation.

Police believe Belaid’s killer is a 34-year-old member of a radical Islamist Salafi group.

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh said on Tuesday that police had arrested four other ultra-orthodox Salafis suspected of being accomplices.

“Chokri received many death threats by telephone in his final weeks,” said Belaid’s brother Abd Majid.

Zied Lakdhar, a member of Belaid’s Popular Front party, also said Belaid had refused police protection.

Army and police forces backed by military aircraft were searching the regions of Wad Mliz and Ghar Dimaou near the border with Algeria on Thursday in an effort to catch Belaid’s killer, security sources said.

Source: Reuters