U.S. defense secretary raises concerns for Tunisia democracy

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin attends the 15th Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA) in Brasilia, Brazil July 26, 2022. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo

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TUNIS, Aug 9 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday that Tunisia’s “dream of autonomy” was in jeopardy, adding to U.S. criticism of the president’s expanded powers that have already aroused accusations of “unacceptable interference”.

Last month, Tunisian President Kais Saied pushed through a new constitution giving himself almost unchecked authority in a referendum that the electoral commission said saw a 30% turnout, although some opposition groups say that figure was inflated.

After the referendum, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and incoming US Ambassador to Tunis Joey Hood expressed concern for Tunisian democracy, and Tunisian authorities summoned the acting US charge d’affaires to complain. Read more

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Washington has been a major donor of development and security aid to Tunisia since its 2011 revolution that toppled autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and introduced a democratic system of government.

Tunisia is now seeking a bailout from the International Monetary Fund to avoid a collapse in public finances.

Speaking at a US Africa Command ceremony on Tuesday, Austin repeated the criticism.

“Across Africa, those who support democracy, freedom and the rule of law are fighting the forces of autocracy, chaos and corruption,” he said.

“We can feel these headwinds in Tunisia, where people have inspired the world with their demands for democracy,” he added.

“The United States is committed to supporting our friends in Tunisia — and across Africa — who are trying to forge open, accountable, and inclusive democracies,” Austin said.

U.S. Africa Command, headquartered in Germany, is responsible for all U.S. Department of Defense operations, exercises, and security cooperation in Africa and surrounding waters.

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Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by David Gregorio

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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