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Thursday 22 August 2019

Tunisia faces fresh political uncertainty as president laid to rest

Beji Caid Essebsi, 92, was the country’s first democratically-elected leader.

Military officers carry the coffin of late Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi (Fethi Belaid/AP)
Military officers carry the coffin of late Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi (Fethi Belaid/AP)

By Bouazza Ben Bouazza, Associated Press

Tunisians and world leaders have bid adieu to the country’s first democratically-elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in office aged 92 and left the North African nation facing new political uncertainty.

Thousands of people lined the route of the funeral cortege, waving the nation’s flag as they cried: “Long live Tunisia.”

The king of Spain, president of France and emir of Qatar were among several world leaders at the ceremony at the presidential palace in Tunis.

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Military officers escorted the coffin to the presidential palace for the ceremony (Fethi Belaid/AP)

Exceptional security measures were in place after threats linked to the Islamic State extremist group.

The 12-mile cortege route was closed to all traffic, from the palace to the Jellaz cemetery on the other side of the city.

Mr Essebsi won Tunisia’s first free election after the 2011 uprising that brought democracy to the country and unleashed uprisings around the Arab world.

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Beji Caid Essebsi, pictured in March, was Tunisia’s first democratically-elected president (Fethi Belaid/AP)

Upon his death, parliament chief Mohamed Ennaceur took over as interim president pending a new election in September.

A tearful Mr Ennaceur praised his predecessor for “defending the values of liberty, the law and the prestige of the state, and making dialogue, consensus and peaceful transitions prevail”.

He promised to pursue a democratic path as he added: “You will remain at our sides as a symbol and a model.”

Mr Essebsi was seen as a unifying figure after the upheaval of the 2011 uprising, though he did not manage to pull Tunisia out of economic troubles or stem sporadic extremist attacks.

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Addressing the ceremony, French President Emmanuel Macron said he had lost a friend with Mr Essebsi’s death (Fethi Belaid/AP)

International speakers described his death as a loss for the Arab-Muslim world and the Mediterranean region.

Tunisia is the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with a functioning democracy and is relatively open and stable compared to other countries in the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron said he had lost “a friend”.

Mr Essebsi was a symbol of the generation that shook off French rule in the 1950s, but Tunisia retains close economic and cultural ties with France.

PA Media

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