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Tunisian presidential hopeful, Nabil Karoui released just before runoff polls

Despite being behind bars, he won 15.6 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential elections

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Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui (C) poses for a selfie with supporters at his campaign headquarters, after he was released from Mornaguia prison
Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui (C) poses for a selfie with supporters at his campaign headquarters, after he was released from Mornaguia prison. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui/dpa.

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.

Nabil Karoui is hailed as the sole democratic success story of the Arab Spring. A 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. 

Tunisian presidential candidate after he was released from Mornaguia prison
Tunisia, Tunis: Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui poses for a picture at his campaign headquarters, after he was released from Mornaguia prison. Tunisian top appeals court ordered his release earlier on Wednesday, four days ahead of a run-off vote. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui/dpa

Pay Attention: Tunisia Presidential election runoff scheduled for October 13

Despite being behind bars, he won 15.6 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential poll.

No clear majority

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. 

Supporters of Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui celebrates after he was released from Mornaguia prison
Tunisia, Manouba: Supporters of Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui celebrates after he was released from Mornaguia prison. Tunisian top appeals court ordered his release earlier on Wednesday, four days ahead of a run-off vote. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui/dpa

A tired electorate

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.

Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui (R) talks with his wife Salwa Samawi, at his campaign headquarters
09 October 2019, Tunisia, Tunis: Tunisian presidential candidate and media magnate Nabil Karoui (R) talks with his wife Salwa Samawi, at his campaign headquarters, after he was released from Mornaguia prison. Tunisian top appeals court ordered his release earlier on Wednesday, four days ahead of a run-off vote. Photo: Khaled Nasraoui/dpa

Pay Attention: Tunisians gear up for Sunday’s parliamentary vote

Televised debate

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 organisers told reporters. The debate is expected to begin at 9:00 pm (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”.

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Seven Illegal Immigrants Drown in Libya

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The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday that seven illegal immigrants drowned off the Libyan coast over the past week.

“In the period of 17-23 November, the bodies of 7 immigrants washed up on shore and no survivors returned to Libya,” IOM said.

The IOM also said that 11,765 illegal immigrants had been rescued and returned to Libya so far in 2020, compared with 9,225 in 2019.

The organisation also revealed that a total of 312 illegal immigrants died and 414 others went missing on the Central Mediterranean route so far this year, compared with 270 deaths and 992 missing immigrants last year.

Following the ouster and killing of its leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been mired in a state of insecurity and chaos that has prompted thousands of illegal immigrants to cross the Mediterranean Sea toward Europe from the country.

Thousands of illegal immigrants, who were either rescued at sea or arrested by the authorities, remain detained inside overcrowded detention centres in Libya, in spite of repeated international calls to close those centres.

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Egyptian Actor, Mohamed Ramadan to Face Trial over Photograph with Israeli Singer

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Egyptian actor and singer, Mohamed Ramadan, will face trial in December, following outrage in Egypt when a photo he took with an Israeli singer was posted on social media.

A lawyer, Tareq Mahmoud, filed a lawsuit against Ramadan, saying the photo offended Egyptians, but it was not clear what the precise charge against him was.

The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters said the trial would begin on Dec. 19.

A photo of Ramadan posing with Israeli singer, Omer Adam in Dubai was first posted on Twitter by an Emirati journalist, and was deleted afterwards.

It however, later appeared on a Facebook page with the title “Israel speaks Arabic’’ linked to the Israeli Foreign Ministry along with the caption “Art always brings us together.’’

In response to the attacks online, Ramadan said on his own Facebook page that he never asked people their nationality before they took picture with him.

He also posted a video with a Palestinian fan in Dubai, accusing his attackers of trying to sabotage his success and popularity.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

However, it has been described as “cold peace’’ and many in Egypt reject normalisation between the two countries.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recently established official ties with Israel.

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UNICEF Says 348,000 Libyan Children Need Humanitarian Aid

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The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said that more than 348,000 children out of 1.2 million people, need humanitarian assistance in Libya, due to the impact of the prolonged armed conflict, political and economic crises and the COVID-19 pandemic.

It also said that $49.1 million is needed by the agency itself together with its partners for emergency interventions in the country in 2021.

In a statement issued on Friday on the review of its humanitarian work plan and needs in 2021, on the occasion of International Children’s Day, UNICEF announced that “it will work with government officials, civil society organisations and the private sector to implement its humanitarian, development and peacebuilding strategy in Libya.

The main needs associated with the coronavirus outbreak include priority interventions for 2021, health, water, sanitation, hygiene, education and child protection.

“Humanitarian needs continue to increase in Libya due to the political crisis, armed conflict and now the COVID-19 pandemic,” UNICEF said, noting that “the first half of 2020 has seen the death of nearly 500 civilians, including 79 children”.

In August 2020, the UN agency counted the needs of more than 392,000 internally displaced persons and about 494,000 returnees for humanitarian assistance, including clean water, sanitation, access to health services, education and protection, ensuring that a total of 283,000 children are in need of protection and 165,000 have access to education.

UNICEF also warned of “the suffering of Libyan children and families due to the rapid deterioration of public services, high food and fuel prices, loss of livelihoods and serious protection problems.”

The agency, however, noted that vaccination services have ceased due to the coronavirus epidemic. In addition, “children are affected by armed conflict and are extremely vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking, gender-based violence, recruitment by armed groups and illegal detention.”

Regarding the status of illegal immigrants, UNICEF has recorded the presence of nearly 585,000 migrants and refugees in Libya, including about 47,000 children (about 12,000 of them unaccompanied) since August 2020.

Every year on 20 November, UNICEF celebrates Universal Children’s Day, which coincides with the date of the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959 and the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

The International Day aims to promote international cohesion and awareness among the world’s children and to improve their well-being.

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