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Tunisia court keeps presidential runner behind bars

Nabil Karoui remains in custody less than two weeks prior to elections.

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Tunisia’s court of appeal Tuesday rejected a fresh request to free jailed presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, his lawyer said, less than two weeks before the media magnate is expected to contest an election runoff.

“Unfortunately the indictment chamber… refused the release request,” lawyer Kamel Ben Messoud told reporters, after what was the fourth such appeal turned down by the judiciary in the country.

Read Also: Man stabs Tunisian policeman to death in Bizerte

A leader in Karoui’s Qalb Tounes party, Oussama Khlifi, told local media that his continued detention “threatens the democratic process”.

The 56-year-old, who has been under investigation since 2017 for money laundering and tax evasion, was placed in pre-trial detention on August 23 and subsequent applications to release him have been denied.

The timing of his arrest, 10 days before the start of campaigning, raised questions about the politicisation of the judicial process.

In July, an investigating judge froze the assets of Karoui and his brother Ghazi, and imposed a travel ban.

When Karoui appealed against those decisions, the indictment chamber issued an arrest warrant, and he was detained at a motorway toll booth after an election visit.

Despite the legal proceedings, Karoui’s candidacy was approved by the elections commission ISIE and he campaigned via the Nessma television channel he founded and through his wife Salwa Smaoui.

After the first round of voting on September 15, independent law professor Kais Saied led with 18.4 per cent of votes, according to ISIE, with Karoui in second with 15.6 per cent.

Karoui’s party, alongside ISIE, international observers and various politicians have called for the jailed candidate to be allowed to campaign fairly ahead of the second round, expected on October 13.

The International Crisis Group has warned that the continued detention of Karoui “jeopardizes the entire electoral process” and that “the courts could cancel the entire vote”.

The candidate’s spokesman called for the vote to be suspended while the candidate is in prison.

“The second round will take place when Nabil is free,” Hatem Mliki told reporters. “Our political opponents are trying to use every means… to prevent a peaceful transfer of power.”

Read Also: 5 things you should know about parliamentary elections in Tunisia

Karoui’s election rival, Saied, has also called for him to be freed to contest the polls.

Rival ‘morally uncomfortable’

“The situation leaves me morally uncomfortable… I would sincerely like to see him freed,” Saied told national television last week.

Tunisian television is due to broadcast a debate between Karoui and Saied as part of the election campaign. Both ISIE and broadcast regulator HAICA have requested that the judiciary authorise Karoui to take part in that debate.

State television has said it is prepared to organise the debate within prison walls if necessary.

Karoui has remained eligible to run despite his imprisonment, as long as any conviction does not also specifically deprive him of his civil rights, according to ISIE.

Tunisia’s presidential vote was brought forward after the death of the incumbent, Beji Caid Essebsi, on July 25. Parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur took over on an interim basis for a 90-day period. Under the constitution, Ennaceur has to make way for an elected president by October 23.

Millions of Tunisians are also to head to ballot boxes on October 6 to elect parliamentary representatives in a key vote which is, however, being overshadowed by the presidential polls.

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Sudanese protesters call for dissolution of Bashir’s National Congress Party

The demonstrators carried banners saying “Dissolve the National Congress Party”

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Sudanese call for dissolution of Bashir's National Congress Party
(File photo)

Thousands of Sudanese rallied in several cities including the capital Khartoum on Monday, urging the country’s new authorities to dissolve the former ruling party of ousted Islamist leader Omar al-Bashir.

Crowds of men and women rallied in Khartoum, its twin city of Omdurman, Madani, Al-Obeid, Port Sudan and in the town of Zalinge in war-torn Darfur, expressing their support for the new authorities who are tasked with the country’s transition to a civilian rule.

Monday’s gatherings also marked the October 21, 1964 uprising that had ousted the then military leader Ibrahim Abboud.

The demonstrators carried banners saying “Dissolve the National Congress Party”, a correspondent reported.

The rallies, organised by the umbrella protest movement Forces of Freedom and Change, was also meant to demand “justice for the martyrs” killed during the months-long uprising that led to Bashir being ousted in April.

Some Islamist groups had also called for similar gatherings on Monday in Khartoum but no major rally was reported, witnesses said.

Bashir and his Islamist National Congress Party ruled Sudan for three decades since 1989 when he came to power in an Islamist-backed coup.

Protests had erupted against his government in December 2018, and quickly turned into a nationwide movement against him that finally led to his removal.

The protest movement says more than 250 people were killed in the uprising. Officials have given a lower death toll.

Bashir is being held in a prison in Khartoum and on trial on charges of corruption. 

Several other officials of his government and senior party members are also in jail.

Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian-military sovereign council that is tasked with overseeing the country’s transition to a civilian rule, the key demand of the protest movement.

A civilian-led cabinet led by reputed economist Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister is charged with the day to day running of the country.

Hamdok is due to deliver an address to the nation later on Monday.

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Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels

“Peace is a very strategic goal for us. The transformation of Sudan is anchored on peace,” said Hedi Idriss Yahia

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Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels
(File photo)

Sudan’s government agreed Monday to allow humanitarian relief to war-torn parts of the country and renewed a ceasefire pact with major rebel groups at peace talks in South Sudan.

Officials from all sides said the new administration in Khartoum and the two umbrella groups of rebels had signed a declaration to keep the doors open to dialogue.

“The political declaration will pave the way for political negotiations and is a step towards a just, comprehensive and final peace in Sudan,” said General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a key figure in Sudan’s transitional government.

READ: Sudan announces “permanent ceasefire” as peace talks hit deadlock

Talks have been underway in Juba since last week between the new government in Khartoum and rebels who fought now-ousted President Omar al-Bashir’s forces in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

The new transitional authorities, tasked with leading the way to civilian rule after the ouster of Bashir, have vowed to bring peace to these conflict zones.

The peace talks have been held in the capital of South Sudan after its President, Salva Kiir, volunteered to mediate. Sudan’s neighbour and former foe is struggling to end its own war.

One of the rebel movements involved in the talks, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF), said the agreement reached in Juba was a good step.

“Peace is a very strategic goal for us. The transformation of Sudan is anchored on peace,” said Hedi Idriss Yahia, who signed the agreement in Juba on Monday on behalf of the SRF.

READ: South Sudan to hold peace talks between Sudan and rebels

Khartoum agreed to let aid into marginalised, conflict-wracked areas of Sudan long cut off from humanitarian groups during Bashir’s rule. They include Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions.

The talks were almost derailed last week after one rebel group threatened to pull out unless the government withdrew from an area in the Nuba Mountains where it said government attacks were ongoing.

Hours later, Khartoum announced a “permanent ceasefire” in the three conflict zones. 

An unofficial ceasefire had been in place since Bashir was ousted by the army in April, a palace coup that followed nationwide protests against his decades-old rule.

Bashir is currently on trial in Khartoum on charges of corruption after being overthrown following months of nationwide protests against his ironfisted rule.

READ: Sudanese Prime Minister Hamdok arrives in South Sudan on first official trip

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Bobi Wine Exclusive Interview

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