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Tunisian presidential hopeful, Nabil Karoui released just before runoff polls4 minutes read

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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North Africa

Libyan GNA government suspends talks with Haftar forces after Tripoli port attack

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A Libyan oil worker walks infront of smoke rising from an oil facility in northern Libya's Ras Lanouf region on January 23, 2016, after it was set ablaze ealier in the week following fresh attacks launched by Islamic State (IS) group jihadists to seize key port terminals. - Firefighters battled the blaze at the oil facility for a third day, an official said, after an assault by jihadists aiming to seize export terminals. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Libya’s internationally recognized government on Tuesday suspended talks hosted by the United Nations to halt warfare over the capital after eastern forces shelled Tripoli’s port, killing three people and almost hitting a highly explosive gas tanker.

The U.N. has been hosting in Geneva ceasefire talks between officers from the Tripoli government and the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), led by commander Khalifa Haftar. The two factions have been trying to take the capital in a near year-long campaign, displacing at least 150,000 people.

The talks had been agreed by foreign powers backing rival parties at a summit in Germany a month ago, an event that has not halted a war cutting oil exports by 1 million barrels a day, a Reuters report said.

Western countries have largely watched passively as Libya fell apart since helping remove Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, opening the door for regional powers such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey to back rival camps fighting for control.

The LNA on Tuesday shelled Tripoli port, saying first it had attacked a Turkish vessel bringing weapons but saying later it had hit an arms depot. Three civilians were killed and five wounded, the Tripoli forces said.

The attack came just as the U.S. ambassador Richard Norland was visiting Haftar in the first trip of a U.S. envoy to eastern Libya since the killing of the U.S. ambassador in a raid blamed on an Islamist militia in 2012.

In response to the LNA attack, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord said in a statement it suspended its participation in ceasefire talks “until firm responses are taken against the attacker, and we will respond firmly to the attack in appropriate timing.”

 “Negotiations don’t mean anything without permanent ceasefire guarantees returning the displaced people and the security of the capital and the other cities,” it added.

Tripoli port is a major gateway for food, fuel, wheat and other imports for the capital, which is home to the internationally recognized government. Heavy artillery fire could be heard at night.

PORT STRIKE

State oil firm NOC said it had urgently evacuated all fuel tankers from the port after a missile struck meters away “from a highly explosive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanker discharging in the port”.

“The city does not have operational fuel storage facilities … the consequences will be immediate; hospitals, schools, power stations and other vital services will be disrupted,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement.

Since January, Turkey has sent several ships carrying arms and heavy trucks to Tripoli and Misrata, another western port allied to the Tripoli government, diplomats say. It has also sent fighters from Syria’s civil war to defend Tripoli.

The LNA is allied to a parallel government in eastern Libya supported by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries. France has also given some support.

Eastern ports and airports are out of range of the Tripoli forces and its Turkish drones.

Tuesday’s attack on the port unfolded as officers from the Tripoli forces and the LNA held a second round of indirect talks in Geneva to establish a permanent ceasefire. Both sides refused again to sit in the same room, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said.

Salame added that he had received conditions from tribesmen allied to eastern forces to lift a blockade of eastern oil export ports, but said these were quite general and would have to be fleshed out in more U.N.-led talks in Geneva next week.

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Business News

Maroc Telecom reports $620 million profit

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Maroc Telecom, Morocco’s largest telecoms operator, has reported an adjusted profit of $620 million in 2019.


The result was achieved on the back of higher mobile data activity in Morocco and in African subsidiaries, according to the company.


The Telecoms total revenue grew by 1.3% to $3.76 billion.
The company says its customer base rose from 11.1% to 67.5 million citing a growth in demand for its mobile broadband and landlines in Morocco.


Maroc Telecom also says it will pay a dividend of 5.54 dirhams per share, totalling 4.9 billion dirhams.
Maroc Telecom, which is listed on the Casablanca Stock Exchange and Euronext Paris, is 53% controlled by the UAE’s Etisalat, with the Moroccan state owning 22%.


It operates subsidiaries in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Togo and the Central African Republic.

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North Africa

Tunisian PM submits list of cabinet nominees, awaits parliamentary approval

PM-designate Fakhfakh submitted a list of cabinet nominees to President Kais Saied, with Nizar Yaich as finance minister, Nourredine Erray as foreign minister and Imed Hazgui as defence minister.

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Tunisian President Kais Saied in parliament./AFP


Tunisian prime minister-designate, Elyes Fakhfakh on Saturday proposed the line-up of a new government and then said negotiations would continue after the Ennahda party, the biggest in parliament, rejected it with fears of a new election beckoning.

The proposed government must be approved by the deeply fragmented parliament in two weeks or there will be a new election, a Reuters report said.

Fakhfakh submitted a list of cabinet nominees to President Kais Saied, with Nizar Yaich as finance minister, Nourredine Erray as foreign minister and Imed Hazgui as defence minister.

But with the largest parties either opposed to his coalition or unenthusiastic about its composition, Fakhfakh may struggle to gain the strong parliamentary majority needed for any significant political programme.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, with 53 seats, said it would only join a unity government that brings together parties from across Tunisia’s political spectrum.

“This decision will put the country in a difficult situation,” Fakhfakh said in speech.

Heart of Tunisia, the second biggest party with 38 seats, also said it would not back the government after Fakhfakh excluded it from the coalition.

Tunisia faces a series of long-term economic challenges which threaten to undermine public trust in the young democracy, and which demand political decisions that could be unpopular.

Since the 2011 revolution, unemployment has been high and growth low, while the government has sunk further into debt with a series of big budget deficits that foreign lenders demand it bring under control.

Elections in September and October returned Saied, a political independent, as president, and a parliament in which Ennahda held fewer than a quarter of the seats.

Ennahda’s nominee for prime minister, Habib Jemli, proposed a coalition government that was rejected by parliament in a confidence vote last month, giving Saied the chance to ask his own candidate, Fakhfakh, to form a cabinet.

If Fakhfakh’s proposal is also rejected by parliament next week, a new parliamentary election must follow within three months.

Fakhfakh had already promised to name a government that would draw only from parties he considered aligned with the goals of the revolution and committed to rooting out corruption.

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