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Tunisia’s president dies

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Beji Caid Essebsi was seen as a leading figure in democratic transition.

FILE PHOTO: Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi speaks during a news conference at the Carthage Palace in Tunis

TUNIS, July 25 (Reuters) – Tunisia’s 92-year-old president,
Beji Caid Essebsi, a major player in the north African country’s
transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, has died, the
presidency said on Thursday.

He was taken to a military hospital on Wednesday.

A leading figure in the country’s fortunes since 2011,
Essebsi was hospitalised late last month and spent a week in
hospital after suffering what authorities described as a severe
health crisis.

“On Thursday morning, the President of the Republic died at
the military hospital in Tunis … The burial ceremony will be
announced later,” the presidency said in statement.

According to the constitution, the speaker of parliament
will temporarily serve as president.

Essebsi has been a prominent politician in Tunisia since the
overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011,
which was followed by uprisings against authoritarian leaders
across the Middle East, including in nearby Libya and Egypt.

Parliamentary elections are expected to be held on Oct. 6
with a presidential vote following on Nov. 17. They will be the
third set of polls in which Tunisians have been able to vote
freely following the 2011 revolution.

Essebsi had limited powers compared with Ben Ali, and was
mainly responsible for foreign and defence policies.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of
the Arab Spring uprisings against dictatorship, with a new
constitution and free elections in 2011 and 2014.

But political progress has not been matched by economic
advances. Unemployment stands at about 15 percent, up from 12
percent in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.

Tunisia has been spared much of the violence seen elsewhere
in the Middle East since 2011, although it has been the target
of militant Islamists over the years.

Government troops have been battling militant groups in
remote areas near the border with Algeria, while high
unemployment has also stoked unrest in recent years.

After the overthrow of Ben Ali, Essebsi led the immediate
transition as prime minister in 2011. He was elected president
three years later. Essebsi had also been a senior figure before
2011, having served as foreign minister under state founder
Habib Bourguiba and parliamentary speaker under Ben Ali. – Reuters