State funeral for Essebsi as new polls loom - GulfToday

State funeral for Essebsi as new polls loom

Essebsi-Funeral

Military officers escort the coffin of late Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi during his funeral in Tunis on Saturday. Associated Press

Thousands of Tunisians on Saturday attended the funeral of president Beji Caid Essebsi as the North African nation gears up for snap elections as early as September to defend the democratic gains of the Arab Spring.

Essebsi, the country’s first head of state elected in nationwide polls, died Thursday at the age of 92, triggering fears of political unrest in a country seen as a rare success story following the Arab Spring uprisings.

French President Emmanuel Macron and other foreign leaders also travelled to Tunisia to pay their last respects.

Thousands of Tunisians mourners lined the 20-kilometre (12-mile) road from the presidential palace in Carthage, where the body was laid in state, to the Djellaz cemetery in southern Tunis where Essebsi was buried.

Officers in full uniform carried the coffin draped in the Tunisian flag into a ceremonial room at the Carthage palace packed with dignitaries, placing it on a dais.

Parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur, who was sworn in as interim president hours after Essebsi’s death, paid tribute to the late leader describing him as “the architect of national reconciliation”.

“He was determined to successfully achieve democratic transition,” in the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Essebsi’s widow and tearful family members were flanked by Macron, Spain’s King Felipe VI, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and other regional and European leaders.

Macron hailed a leader who “in these times of threatening obscurantism... was keen on keeping Tunisia enlightened, tolerant and committed to universal values”.

Mourner Amira was among large crowds who packed the cemetery for the final farewell to Essebsi.

“It is a sad day. I feel deep pain at losing a dear person who united us. History will remember him,” she said.

Farah, an architect, said she came “to pay tribute to his work on behalf of women”.

The interior ministry said it was deploying a large number of security forces to guarantee a smooth ceremony, adding however that it would respect “spontaneous gatherings by citizens”.

“President Beji Caid Essebsi belongs to the Tunisian people and each Tunisian has the right to attend his funeral,” the late leader’s son Hafedh Essebsi said in a Facebook message on Friday.

Agence France-Presse