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Tunisia’s judiciary rejects appeal for release of presidential candidate

Nabil Karoui was arrested on money laundering charges on August 23 shortly after announcing his presidential bid

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Tunisia's judiciary rejects appeal for release of presidential candidate
Nabil Karoui, Tunisian media magnate and presidential candidate. (AFP)

Tunisia’s judiciary on Tuesday rejected an appeal to release media mogul and presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, said his lawyers, who have requested that he be able to campaign.

Arrested on money laundering charges on August 23, Karoui was indicted in early July shortly after announcing he intended to run for the presidency in polls set for September 15.

After the rejection of Karoui’s appeal on Tuesday, one of his lawyers, Mohamed Zaanouni, said his client was awaiting another appeal hearing.

“We hope to have an audience quickly, so that the rights of Mr Karoui with regard to his candidacy are respected.” 

Karoui’s candidacy has been confirmed by Tunisia’s electoral commission (ISIE).

He was among 26 candidates given the green light on Saturday, with ISIE head Nabil Baffoun saying even convicted candidates could take part as long as the verdict against them does not specifically say they are banned from running in an election.

Tunisia’s presidential election was brought forward from November after the death in July of ageing leader Beji Caid Essebsi, the country’s first democratically elected President.

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North Africa Politics

Tunisia’s outsider Kais Saied projected to win presidential election

The official results are expected Monday, but news of the projected victory has triggered celebrations

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Tunisia's outsider Kais Saied projected to win presidential election
The presidential candidate Kais Saied. (Photo by Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto)

Conservative academic Kais Saied, who is poised to become Tunisia’s next president, on Sunday thanked the “young people for turning a new page” in the country’s history.

“We will try to build a new Tunisia,” he told a gathering of supporters, his family and the press after state media announced his landslide election victory.

“Young people led this campaign, and I am responsible for them.”

In a contest which reflected Tunisia’s shifting post-revolution political landscape, Saied, an independent, scooped almost 77 per cent of the vote, Wataniya television said.

Some 90 per cent of voters aged 18 to 25 voted for Saied, according to polling institute Sigma, while just 49 per cent of people above 60 chose him over his rival, business tycoon and media magnate Nabil Karoui.

READ: Tunisia runoff elections pits media mogul and academic in face-off

The official results are expected Monday, but news of the projected victory triggered celebrations at the retired law professor’s election campaign offices in central Tunis, as fireworks were set off outside and supporters honked car horns.

“I will carry the message” of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Saied said.

“The law will be applied to all, and first and foremost to me,” he said.

“Everyone made their choice, in complete freedom. Our project is founded on freedom. The era of submission is over. We have just entered a new era in history,” he said.

“The state will be built on a foundation of trust. Trust between the leader and the people, and in a framework of respect for the rules,” he added.

Saied, meanwhile, underlined his support for the Palestinian cause, which he said he considered a foreign policy priority.

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South Sudan to hold peace talks between Sudan and rebels

This new set of talks follow a first round in September when both sides agreed on a road map for negotiations

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Sudanese Foreign Minister Ahmed al-Dierdiry speaks after a signing ceremony between South Sudan's government and rebels

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok will attend peace talks in the South Sudan capital Monday with rebel leaders from several Sudanese states, said official sources in Juba. “Tomorrow’s meeting is to mark the launching of Sudan’s peace talks,” Ateny Wek Ateny, spokesman for South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, told reporters Sunday.

Hamdok, who was only appointed in August in a deal between the army and the opposition, will meet rebel leaders from the Sudanese states of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. Kiir, who just a few weeks ago signed his own peace deal with rebel leader Riek Machar, offered to mediate between Sudan and the rebels back in November 2018.

This new set of talks follow a first round in September when both sides agreed on a road map for the negotiations. This week’s meeting is intended to tackle the main issues, said Ateny.

Also attending will be Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who last week won the Nobel Peace Prize, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta. Their presence, said Ateny, was to give the talks more weight.

A Sudanese official shows a sheet from a signed agreement after a signing ceremony between South Sudan's government and rebels
A Sudanese official shows a sheet from a signed agreement after a signing ceremony between South Sudan’s government and rebels in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on July 6, 2018 after they agreed to withdraw troops from urban areas aiming to end a four-and-a-half year civil war. – The agreement comes days after South Sudanese arch-foes President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar agreed on a permanent ceasefire, raising hopes of an end to the conflict in the world’s youngest country. (Photo by Ebrahim Hamid / AFP)

A senior Sudanese delegation arrived in Juba on Sunday. The Sudanese delegation will meet Abdulaziz al-Hilu, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), which is active in Bule Nile and South Kordofan states. Al-Hilu will lead the rebel delegation.

This new peace initiative comes after the fall of longtime Sudanese autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled from power by the Sudanese military in April.Prime Minister Hamdok has been tasked with leading Sudan back to civilian rule, but he has said he also wants to end the conflicts with the rebels.

Over the years, the rebels’ conflict with Khartoum have killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced millions to flee their homes.

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Tunisia runoff elections pits media mogul and academic in face off

Some Tunisians organised car-sharing and free transport for students who have to travel for the elections

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Tunisian electoral officials count the ballots at a polling station in the capital Tunis,

Tunisians voted  Sunday in a presidential runoff pitting a conservative academic against a media magnate fresh out of jail, reflecting the country’s shifting post-revolution political landscape.

The political newcomers – one dubbed Tunisia’s “Berlusconi” the other nicknamed “Robocop” – swept aside the old guard in the first round, highlighting voter anger over a stagnant economy, joblessness and poor public services in the cradle of the Arab Spring.

“There is a lot of unemployment, so we need a president who works hard for the economy,” said Ibdisseme Adaili, who cast her ballot in the capital Tunis. Adding controversy and suspense to the contest, presidential contender Nabil Karoui only walked free on Wednesday, having spent more than a month behind bars on suspicion of money-laundering.

The poll, Tunisia’s second free presidential elections since the 2011 revolt, follows the death of president Beji Caid Essebsi in July. Voting is due to finish at 6:00 pm local time with exit polls expected on Sunday evening and official results by Tuesday.

In one polling station, voters said they were divided between “the one who will apply the law” and the one “who helps the poor,” referring to a charity television show that boosted Karoui’s popularity.

“Today is a chance to recover our Tunisia, the modern Tunisia that is for women… not the Tunisia that frightens us,” said Karoui after casting his vote in Tunis. The 56-year-old business tycoon and media mogul portrays himself as a bulwark against political Islam, which he accuses his rival Kais Saied of supporting.

Saied, a constitutional law expert, called for Tunisians “to make a choice today in complete freedom”. “You have created a new concept of revolution, let your conscience guide you and you will win your sovereignty,” said the 61-year-old independent candidate.

A Tunisian electoral official empties a ballot box
A Tunisian electoral official empties a ballot box at a polling station in the capital Tunis, on October 13, 2019. – Tunisians voted in a presidential runoff pitting a conservative academic against a media magnate fresh out of jail, reflecting the country’s shifting post-revolution political landscape. (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Saied campaigned upon the values of the 2011 revolution, based on opposition to westernised and corrupt elites, and in favour of radical decentralisation.

‘Car-sharing’ voters

Some Tunisians organised car-sharing and free transport for students who have to travel far to their hometowns to cast their ballots.

“I am doing it out of love for my country. I support the one who embodies hope for Tunisia,” said taxi driver Bakri who was offering free rides to Saied supporters between Tunis and the coastal city of Nabeul.

At the Ban Alouia terminal in Tunis, 35-year-old Reda joined the crowds to catch a bus to his hometown of Kabylie, 450 kilometres (280 miles) away.

“It is important to vote… it is a duty. The two candidates are very different. One could help the country advance, the other sink it,” he said.

The runoff outcome remains uncertain, with a ban on opinion polls, but Karoui received a boost with his newly formed party, Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunis), coming second in legislative elections a week earlier.

Tunisian electoral officials count the ballots
Tunisian electoral officials count the ballots at a polling station in the capital Tunis, on October 13, 2019. – Tunisians voted in a presidential runoff pitting a conservative academic against a media magnate fresh out of jail, reflecting the country’s shifting post-revolution political landscape. (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

Saied topped the first round in the presidential election, held on September 15, with 18.4 percent of votes, while Karoui followed with 15.6 percent.  Nearly half of eligible voters cast their ballots in that round.

Officials said turnout in the runoff was 39.20 percent by 1430 GMT, just two and a half hours before polls closed. An election official, Nabil Baffoun, said it seemed final turnout “will be better” than the 49 percent recorded for the first round.

Sharp contrast

While the candidates are both seen as anti-establishment figures, the contrast between them is sharp, with Saied nicknamed “Robocop” for his rigid and austere manner. A social conservative, he has defended the death penalty, criminalisation of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.

Saied taught at the Tunis faculty of judicial and political sciences for nearly two decades. He launched an unorthodox low-cost election campaign that saw him shun mass rallies and instead canvass door-to-door.

Karoui presents himself as a candidate for the poor and the appeal of the flamboyant candidate, who always appears in designer suits, stems largely from his media empire and philanthropic activity.

Tunisian electoral officials count the ballots at a polling station in the capital Tunis, on October 13, 2019. -
Tunisian electoral officials count the ballots at a polling station in the capital Tunis, on October 13, 2019. – Tunisians voted in a presidential runoff pitting a conservative academic against a media magnate fresh out of jail, reflecting the country’s shifting post-revolution political landscape. (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

After the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Nessma TV channel that Karoui founded turned from entertainment programming towards news, becoming one of Tunisia’s largest private broadcasters.

His arrest in the run-up to the election cemented his status as an outsider — despite being a longtime key supporter of Essebsi, whose death on July 25 brought forward the polls. Karoui says the allegations against him are politically motivated.

If he wins the runoff, Karoui will receive immunity “and all the legal proceedings against him… will be suspended until the end of his mandate”, constitutional law professor Salsabil Klibi told reporters.

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