Tunisia's Essebsi, leading figure in shift to democracy, dies at 92
By Tarek Amara TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s 92-year-old president, Beji Caid Essebsi, who helped guide the North African country's transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, died on Thursday and the country set in train a process toward picking his successor. Parliament Speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president in keeping with the constitution, to smooth a transition of power ahead of a presidential election in September
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s 92-year-old president, Beji Caid Essebsi, who helped guide the North African country's transition to democracy after a 2011 revolution, died on Thursday and the country set in train a process toward picking his successor.
Parliament Speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president in keeping with the constitution, to smooth a transition of power ahead of a presidential election in September.
Essebsi, a leading figure in the country's fortunes since the popular uprising eight years ago, was hospitalised late last month for a week after suffering what authorities called a severe health crisis.
His death was announced in a statement from the presidency, which said the president had died at the military hospital in Tunis on Thursday morning.
A state funeral for Essebsi is to be held Saturday and the prime minister declared seven days of national mourning.
The country's electoral commission announced later that the presidential election would be held on Sept. 15, two months earlier than previously scheduled.
A parliamentary vote is set for Oct. 6.
The presidency urged Tunisians to unite for the good of the nation.
The country, birthplace of the Arab Spring revolts against dictatorship in the region, has been hit by occasional unrest over high unemployment and by several deadly Islamist militant attacks.
"We are sad today about the death of our president but proud that ... there will not be a vacuum in this young democracy ... The country has a new president in a short time today," local journalist Zied Krichen said.
The coming elections will be the third set of polls in which Tunisians have been able to vote freely since the 2011 uprising.
Essebsi rose to prominence after the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, which was followed by Arab Spring uprisings against authoritarian leaders across the Middle East, including in nearby Libya and Egypt.
Drafted in as premier after Ben Ali's fall, Essebsi in 2012 founded the secular Nidaa Tounes party, now part of the governing coalition, to counter-balance the resurgence of Islamists who were suppressed under Ben Ali. Two years later, Essebsi became Tunisia's first freely elected head of state.
"After the revolution, the president led the people to avoid conflict, led the democratic transition and was keen to build and complete the constitutional institutions," the presidency statement said.
Analyst Ibrahim Ouslati said the death of Essebsi, one of the world's oldest leaders, was not likely to destabilise politics.
"I don't think there will be any problem because Tunisians have a constitution that clearly shows that the speaker of the parliament occupies the position temporarily," he told Reuters.
"The political elite has enough awareness to manage it wisely like any democratic country."
Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring uprisings, with a new constitution, free elections and a coalition government of moderate Islamist and secular parties in a region otherwise struggling with upheaval.
But political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stands at about 15%, up from 12% in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.
Essebsi's death comes at a time of fresh attempts to replace dictatorships with democracy in the Middle East.
The armed forces of neighbouring Algeria and Sudan ousted long-serving rulers of those countries after mass protests. But it remains unclear whether greater freedoms will result.
Rached Ghannouchi, influential leader of Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, said Essebsi had presided over a smooth evolution toward democracy by promoting inclusive politics.
Essebsi faced criticism, however, that he was seeking a return to a strong state with power concentrated in the presidency, whose role is limited to foreign and defence policies under the new constitution.
Critics also accused him of seeking a dynastic handover to his son and failing to support a truth commission seeking justice for the victims of authoritarian rule.
Essebsi, who served as a speaker of parliament under Ben Ali, denied all such accusations.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, additional reporting by mohamed argoubi; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.