European Commission Approves €200m Loan for Tunisia

Tunis – The European Commission approved this week the disbursement of a €200 million loan to Tunisia as part of a total of €500 million to be disbursed in three installments in 2017 and 2018.

“The disbursement to Tunisia is proof of our strong commitment to support the successful economic recovery of one of our closest neighbors,” the Commission said.

This disbursement marks the launch of the second Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA-II) program to Tunisia.

The Commission proposed it in February last year and the European Parliament and the Council adopted it on July 6, 2016 in an attempt to help Tunisia overcome the repercussions of the terrorist attacks of 2015, which contributed to halting Tunisia’s economic recovery.

The EU’s strategy of assistance to Tunisia includes budget support programs and substantial loans from the European Investment Bank.

The EU calls for the implementation of a number of policy conditions targeting fiscal consolidation as well as the improvement of Tunisia’s social assistance schemes and business climate.

Libyan Parties Set Conditions for Accepting to Amend Skhirat Agreement

Tunis– Libyan political dialogue sessions have focused, for the third consecutive day, on the restructuring of the High Presidential Council, the proposal to elect a president and two vice-presidents, and the future relation between the government of national accord and the council.
 
Political discussions, which are held in Tunis under the supervision of UN Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame, have concealed an early dispute over who would occupy the Council’s presidency and who would be its members.
 
Among the proposals submitted on Thursday is that Fayez al-Sarraj, who currently heads the council, remains in office, provided that two of the council’s deputies – one from the east and the other from the southern part of the country – remain in the same institution.
 
The meetings kicked off earlier this week, gathering a delegation from the Libyan Parliament and another from the High Council of the State, in addition to representatives of other Libyan factions and tribal leaders.
 
Observers said that on Thursday, no direct dialogue was held between the Libyan factions, as several political parties addressed letters to the dialogue committees representing Parliament and the State Council, in order to present their stance on the main discussion issues and “set early conditions before moving to the upcoming phase of elections”.
 
In this context, Abdulrahman al-Suwaihli, head of the High Council of the State, called on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya to “grant legislative powers to the Council of State, in equal share with the Parliament, in exchange for its approval to maintain Article 8 that specifies the powers of the commander of armed forces, as well as to retain the subjection of the army leadership to Parliament”.
 
The spokesman for the High Council of Libyan Tribes and Cities, Khaled Ramadan Abou Amid, issued a statement welcoming Salame’s initiative, and provided seven conditions for the full engagement in the UN roadmap, most important of which is the holding of intra-Libyan dialogue without any foreign interference.
 
Other conditions he cited included the unconditional release of all Libyan regime prisoners and the lifting of all security and legal restrictions and international criminal warrants against wanted persons.”
 
 Last week, Salame outlined an action plan of three phases to resolve the crisis in the country, during a high-level meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York.
 
The three phases include the ongoing round of talks to amend the Skhirat Agreement, the holding of a national conference under the UN auspices and the organization of a referendum to adopt a new constitution, paving the way to general elections.
 
In a news conference on Thursday, the UN envoy to Libya said that the Libyan political agreement, known as the Skhirat Agreement, would be referred to Parliament, after the completion of its amendment.

Tunisia Breaks Up Cells Supporting Terrorists Hiding in Mountainous Areas

Tunisia

Tunisia- Security investigations carried out by the Tunisian Interior Ministry with a terrorist element, who was arrested in August in Kasserine, have resulted in breaking up cells that support terrorist elements in Kasserine, Sidi Bouzid, and Jendouba governorates.

In light of these investigations, security forces arrested eight people, who were involved in terrorist cells, and kept them in detention after coordinating with the judicial authorities concerned with the counter-terrorism file.

They also seized three vehicles that were used to secure terrorist movements and deliver supplies.

On Tuesday, the Tunisian Interior Ministry revealed the results of its investigations with the detainee from Kasserine, confirming that the other eight detainees were proven to be communicating with terrorists, hiding in mountainous areas, providing them with supplies, money and mobile phones and facilitating their movement away from security surveillance.

The terrorist element, according to the ministry, admitted to being linked to two terrorist elements, who were killed by the National Guard units in Sidi Bouzid city on April .

He also confessed his involvement in transporting them from Kasserine mountains to Sidi Bouzid and securing their movement inside the city before they were eliminated by counter-terrorism forces.

Organizations specialized in terrorism in Tunisia estimate the number of ‘sleeper cells’ to be at least 300 and confirm that they pose a threat to security and stability, especially if they continue to deal with terrorist elements hiding in the mountainous areas of the west or with thousands of Tunisians affiliated with terrorist organizations in hotbeds of tension in Libya, Syria, and Iraq.

The security operation that was carried out by the anti-terrorist units last August in Jebel Bireno resulted in killing two dangerous terrorist elements and arresting one.

The arrested terrorist element provided the security forces with valuable information that led to breaking up sleeper cells that communicating with terrorists who carry out weapons in the fact of the Tunisian state.

Tunisia Arrests Top Terrorist Recruiter

Tunis – Tunisia’s interior ministry has confirmed the arrest of a man recruiting fighters for the purpose of sending them to war zones such as Libya, Syria and Iraq.

The ministry, which did not identify the suspect, said the man is Tunisian and was residing in a neighboring country. But he was arrested in the center of the Tunisian capital.

The arrest of the man, who is considered a top terrorist recruiter, will likely untangle the mystery of the travel of hundreds of Tunisians to war zones.

The ministry said the suspect admitted to luring a large number of extremists in Tunisia and sending them to Syria.

He also confessed to being tasked by ISIS in Syria to carry out his mission in return for huge sums of money in US currency.

Police also arrested two other accomplices, who were on their way to Syria. They seized from them cash and electronic devices that include videos praising ISIS.

During initial questioning, the two men admitted to planning on traveling to Syria to join the terrorist organization. They also confessed to plotting terrorist attacks in Tunisia in case they failed to reach the war-torn country.

According to official data, there are around 3,000 Tunisian terrorists abroad, the majority in Syria and the rest in Libya, Iraq and other countries.

Interior ministry documents also reveal that more than 27,000 Tunisians have been stopped from joining terrorist groups, and that 800 terrorists have returned to the country.

The return of extremists creates huge security challenges for the Tunisian authorities.

Suspected ISIS Terrorist Killed in Tunisia

Tunisia

Tunisia – Clashes erupted between the Tunisian National Guard and an extremist group on Kasserine on Monday, official National Guard spokesman Khalifa al-Shibani said.

The National Guard killed two militants and arrested four others in the operation and they are still pursuing others.

Tunisian security forces killed a “dangerous” ISIS leader who was plotting attacks during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, authorities said Monday.

Houssem Tlithi, 20, was killed in a National Guard operation on Sunday night near the Algerian border.

The Interior Ministry said the suspect, a member of the Oqba bin Nafi battalion, had been on the run since 2014 and hiding in the Mount Salloum region, an extremist stronghold.

Eleven arrest warrants had been issued against the suspect in connection with “terrorist operations”, the ministry said.

Mount Salloum is near Mount Chambi where 15 soldiers were killed in 2014 in the deadliest attack against the armed forces.

During Sunday night’s operation, another extremist was wounded and weapons were seized, including a Kalashnikov assault rifle and material used to make explosive belts.

UNESCO Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Inscription of Tunisian Dougga as Heritage Site

Tunisia- The UNESCO organized a cultural event in its headquarters in Paris to recall the qualification of the “Dougga” historic site in Tunisia. The event aimed at promoting the historic heritage reserve of Tunisia and its history among the cultural and tourism circles worldwide.

The program of the event included an exhibition organized in the headquarters’ salon to feature items from the cultural heritage of the city of Dougga. It also included a lecture on the city’s history, and a show for many monuments from the Bardo National Museum, one of the biggest Tunisian museums.

Among the attendees of the event were Tunisian Minister of Tourism Salma Al Loumi, Tunisia’s ambassadors to France and the UNESCO, and Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s Director-General.

The Tunisian national TVs partook in the event, which will run from May 12 to May 20, by displaying a documentary entitled “Dougga…from stones to civilization” written and directed by the Tunisian Alaa Eddine bin Abdullah. The historic site of Dougga has been enlisted in the World Heritage List since 1997. It extends over 65 hectares and includes many historic features from the Romanian era.

The historic area includes many Romanian temples like the Capitol and Mercury established in the end of the second century, in addition to the Romanian theatre, Romanian cemeteries, palaces, a public square, passages, triumph arcs, public bathrooms, and fancy houses covered with mosaic. Dougga is also known with around 2000 engraves refering to different civilizations.

Throughout Tunisia’s relation with the UNESCO organization, eight historic sites were qualified as World Heritage Sites. More sites are also expected to be enlisted like the Djerba Island and Al Jarid beach in Southern Tunisia.

Tunisia: Significant Rise in Prices before Ramadan

Tunisia

Tunisia – Consumer inflation in Tunisia increased to 5% at the end of April and is expected to continue in the coming period due to mounting consumption, especially during the month of Ramadan and in wake of the Tunisian currency devaluation.

The National Statistics Institute asserted that inflation increased during the past month after stability in January and February when the average was 4.6% before it rose to 4.8% in March. The monthly inflation rate rose around 0.9% between March and April.

The institute provided data on consumption indicators in Tunisia, including the remarkable rise of food and beverage prices (5.2%) and shoes and clothes prices (8.4%).

As Ramadan approaches, Tunisian markets marked an increase in prices of vegetables 11.5%, cooking oils 13.6%, fish 5.8%, dairy products 2.4% and meat 3.6%. These are essential consumables, which explains their direct effect on inflation rates.

During the same period, beverage prices also rose 4.6% following a 6.2% increase in prices of mineral water, soft drinks and juice. As for clothes and shoes, prices increased 8.4% while the sector of housing, water and domestic energy rose around 5.9%.

Tunisian finance and economy experts explained that this increase is attributed to the annual rise in prices of houses, drinking water, electricity, gas and fuel.

Tunisian economist Ezzedine Suaidan stated that crop yields during the coming period will leave a positive impact on the supply. He expected prices to return to normal after a few days, especially amid the economic crisis Tunisian families are enduring.

Government Program to Restructure over 400 Public Institutions in Tunisia

Tunisia

Tunisia – Economic advisor to the Tunisian prime minister Tawfik al-Rajhi announced that the government is preparing a program to restructure public institutions that are facing financial difficulties.

Al-Rajhi, who is responsible for following up on major reforms in the country, said that the program is focusing on enhancing capital, developing governance, encouraging growth and interior investment, and improving the social environment in order to increase these institutions’ production.

Rajhi said that Tunisian PM Youssef Chahed will hold a government meeting this week to ratify this program, given that the folder of the public institutions is very complicated and requires time and effort to be settled.

He said that some 404 public institutions, active in 25 different economic sectors, are facing many difficulties and suffer from many deficiencies.

In this regard, economic expert Sadeq Jabnoun said public institutions suffer from a deficit exceeding four billion Tunisian dinars ($1.6 million) and therefore are not contributing to the funding of the state budget.

This demands an immediate amendment of the 2017 financial law, he noted.

Jabnoun called on the state to abandon its harsh fiscal policies and to encourage industry, agriculture, and major sectors to regain economic vitality.

In a report released in April, the World Bank expected the Tunisian economy to grow by 2.3 percent in 2017 based on primary indications that confirm the recovery of strategic sectors like agriculture, phosphate and transitional industries.

Tunisia Beach Attack Victims Let Down by “Cowardly” Security Forces – UK Inquiry

The body of a tourist shot dead by a gunman lies near a beachside hotel in Sousse, Tunisia June 26, 2015. Reuters

Tunisia, London- “Cowardly” Tunisian security forces let down the victims of a shooting at a beach hotel, making “deliberate and unjustifiable” delays in their journey to the scene, a UK inquiry found on Tuesday.

A gunman killed 30 Britons and eight others on a Tunisian resort in June 2015, having walked nearly two miles on his killing spree before being shot dead by security forces.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Summing up after a six-week inquest, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith severely criticized the security forces, saying that their response had been “at best shambolic and at worst cowardly.”

An inquest by Tunisian authorities was also critical of local security forces’ response.

Loraine-Smith did however praise the “conspicuous personal courage” showed by some staff and guests and said neither the tour operator nor the hotel had been neglectful in the unlawful killings.

The British victims had booked their trips through Thomson Holidays, which is owned by TUI Group.

Families of those killed have been critical of TUI for not highlighting British government warnings around travel to Tunisia in their advertising for holidays and not making it easier to cancel trips following a previous attack in Tunis, according to Reuters.

A lawyer for the victims’ families said they would begin civil proceedings against TUI for damages.

“It is now crucial that the whole travel industry learns from what happened in Sousse to reduce the risk of similar catastrophic incidents in future,” a statement from Clive Garner at Irwin Mitchell, which represents 22 of the families, said.

The resort attack took place in Sousse, 140 km (87 miles) south of Tunis, three months after an attack on a museum in Tunis, with foreign tourists taken hostage.

Loraine-Smith said that TUI did not update their website following the Tunis attack, and the firm’s phone operators did not direct concerned customers to the government’s travel advice for Tunisia in the wake of the museum shooting.

TUI said in a statement that “steps to raise awareness” of the government’s travel advice had subsequently been taken.

Tunisia Reduces Poverty from 20.5% to 15.2%

Tunisia

Tunisia- The poverty rate in Tunisia was down from 20.5% to 15.2% in the period extending from 2010 to 2015, as per a quinquennial survey on consumption made public by Hédi Saidi, the general director of the National Institute of Statistics.

“From 2010 to 2015, the poverty rate went from 42.3% to 30.8% in the Midwest and from 11.1% to 5.3% in the Greater Tunis,” added Saidi.

A regional breakdown of data shows that poverty is most widespread in the West and some provinces in the South, where the rate exceeds the national average, such as Kef, Kasserine and Béja, with 34.2%, 32.8% and 32% poverty rates.

As for the Tunisian annual consumption, results have shown a quick development between 2010 and 2015, reaching TND3,871 (USD1,500) in 2015 compared to TND2,661 in 2010.

On a different level, Tunisia has signed an agreement with Germany by which it can be granted loans and funding worth EUR30.2 million to develop exploitation of water resources, especially in internal regions.

Economist Ezzedine Suaidan expected 2017 to be a tough economic year in Tunisia due to expansion of domestic and foreign debts and being due in the current year. “Tunisia is supposed to pay off TND8 billion (USD3,2 billion) during 2017, “ he stated.

The economist added that it is unlikely to achieve a growth rate that ranges between 4.5% and 5% in the new year, as a direct comment on the optimistic forecasts made public by Al-Shazli Al-Ayari, the governor of Tunisia’s Central Bank.