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Tunisia Welcomes UK’s Decision to Lift Travel Advisory | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Tunisian medics stand next to covered bodies in the resort town of Sousse, a popular tourist destination 140 kilometres (90 miles) south of the Tunisian capital, following a mass shooting on June 26, 2015. At least 37 people were killed and 36 wounded when a gunman opened fire on holidaymakers at a Tunisian beach resort hotel, the health ministry said. AFP PHOTO / BECHIR TAIEB

Tunisia – Tunisia welcomed the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) decision that lifted its ban on travel to the country and said it would give a fresh start to the tourism sector.

Tourism Minister Salma Loumi pointed out the importance of UK’s decision that opens new horizons for Tunisian tourism and sends a message to the world that Tunisia is now safe.

She added that the Tunisian authorities would continue efforts to strengthen the security of tourists, hotels, airports and everywhere in the country.

Tourism accounts for 8 percent of Tunisia’s gross domestic product, provides thousands of jobs, and is a key source of foreign currency.

Experts believe that the decision will encourage international travel agencies to organize trip destinations to Tunisia again after tourism deteriorated remarkably due to political and security instability in the country.

Two years ago, FCO advised against all but essential travel to the country in the wake of a terrorist attack on a tourist resort in Sousse in June 2015 that left 38 dead, including 30 Britons.

As a result, there were no direct flights between the UK and Tunisia. However, security in the country has improved enormously in the years since the attack.

A report by FCO read: “The Tunisian authorities have improved security in tourist resorts and their ability to respond to a terrorist incident. Tunisian security forces have also improved and are better prepared to tackle terrorist threats than they were at the time of the 2015 attacks.”

The FCO still warns against travel to the south and west of the country, where it borders with Libya and Algeria respectively, and says “terrorists are still very likely to try to carry out attacks in Tunisia”.

Tunisian officials says number of tourists traveling to the country is expected to rise by about 30 percent in 2017 to reach 6.5 million tourists.

In other news, statements of former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki about the terrorist attack on US embassy in 2012 drew criticism after he said in an interview that US security forces “disappeared as if they evaporated” and Tunisian army refused to carry out orders.

Former Interior Minister Ali al-Arid denounced Marzouki’s recollection of how the incident happened and reiterated that security forces and counter-terrorism units were first at the scene to secure the embassy from any terrorist threat.

Arid denied the presence of US Marines at the scene, saying he wasn’t aware of any foreign military intervention.

Former Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zubaidi expressed his surprise at statements made by the former president regarding the US Embassy events, particularly when he stated his rejection of the request to bring in the US Marines.

Zubaidi said he rejected Hillary Clinton’s request for any operation that allows landing of foreign military forces on Tunisian territory. He revealed there was a written request for the landing of 300 Marines and the number was later reduced to dozens and their status was changed to become part of the protection forces of the US Embassy.

He said he threatened to resign if US Marines were allowed to directly interfere on Tunisian soil.

The former minister also mentioned that military units sent to the embassy coordinated with former army Chief Rashid Ammar, reiterating that Tunisian army played an important role in stabilizing the situation around the embassy and regaining control over the area.

Zubaidi described Marzouki’s statement as “fake” and said he is “irresponsible” for giving that statement especially that he is required to be discreet on certain issues given his former status.

Prime minister of technocrat government Hamadi Jebali asked Marzouki to be cautious in issuing inaccurate judgments.