Tuesday, July 30, 2013

8 Tunisian Soldiers Killed in Shoot Out

8 Tunisian soldiers killed by 'terrorists': State TV

AFP, Monday 29 Jul 2013

Fatal gunfire exchanged in Mount Chaambi, where Tunisian army has been hunting militant Islamist group linked to Al-Qaeda since December

Eight Tunisian soldiers were killed Monday in a firefight with "terrorists" near the Algerian border where the army has been tracking Al-Qaeda-linked militants for months, national television said.

"Eight soldiers were killed as they exchanged fire with a terrorist group in Mount Chaambi," state broadcaster Wataniya 1 said.

The channel said that those killed were "members of an elite unit," without giving further details on the clashes.

Several other Tunisian media outlets put the toll at between seven and nine, while the authorities did not immediately comment on the incident.

Security forces have been hunting a militant Islamist group in the rugged Mount Chaambi area close to the border with Algeria since December, when it attacked a border post, killing a member of the national guard.

The army intensified its search at the end of April, after landmines planted by the Islamists to protect their base in the border region wounded 16 members of the security forces.

Improvised explosive devices have wounded and killed several other members of the security forces since authorities intensified their hunt for the group in April.

Authorities have said the jihadist group is made up of several dozen Qaeda-linked militants, some of whom fought in the conflict in Mali.

The death of the soldiers comes as Tunisia's Islamist-dominated government faces protests following the killing of an opposition politician on Thursday.

It was the second political assassination since February.

Opposition groups have demanded the resignation of the government and have staged nightly protests, particularly in Tunis.

But Prime Minister Ali Larayedh firmly rejected these demands on Monday, calling a general election for December 17.


Tunisia: Nine Soldiers Killed In Clashes Near The Border With Algeria

Kasserine (Updates) – Initial reports claim that nine army soldiers were killed on Monday July, 29th in a clash with an armed group. The clashes occured in Mount. Chaambi, near the Algerian border.
According to Tunisian national television station, Wattaniya 1, and as quoted by AFP, the soldiers are members of an elite unit of the Tunisian army.

Tunisia and Algeria have decided a few weeks ago to strengthen their security cooperation, including the exchange of information. In May, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, from the Algerian side, had reassured the president of the National Constituent Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, stand his country stands side to side with Tunisia.

“Tunisia is a strategic partner of Algeria. Its security depends on that of Algeria and Algeria security depends on that of Tunisia, “stated Sellal.

Political crisis

The death of nine Tunisian soldiers in a critical time when Tunisia is facing a political crisis after the assassination of secular opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi. The powerful union UGTT and Ettakatol, a member of the ruling coalition party (Mainly known by Tunisians as Troika), held meetings in this evening to decide their position on the political crisis.

Clashes almost broke this morning between Islamists and secular protesters outside the headquarters of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), on the background of the opposition’s demands to ouster the government and the dissolve of the NCA. The head of government, member of the Islamist Ennahdha party, has rejected these requests and announced elections for December 17th, the anniversary of Al Bouazizi’s slain, the hero behind the Tunisian revolution.

This piece is an update to a recent article published on The Tunis Times 30, July. [Breaking news: Military Squad Ambushed at Chaambi Mountain]

Tunisia’s prime minister refuses to step down

By Associated Press, Published: July 29

TUNIS — In a defiant speech, Tunisia’s prime minister rejected opposition demands that his government step down and promised on Monday to complete the country’s democratic transition with a new constitution by August and elections in December.

The assassination of two opposition legislators in the past six months has plunged Tunisia — the birthplace of the Arab Spring — into a crisis with anti-government protests, the resignation of a cabinet minister and a walkout by dozens of lawmakers.

The standoff was given extra urgency by a bloody ambush Monday that left at least eight soldiers dead in a mountainous region near the Algerian border that is known as an Islamist militant stronghold. Jebel Chaambi, Tunisia’s highest mountain at 5,000 feet, was the site of an intensive military hunt for an al-Qaeda-linked militant group during the spring.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh’s fiery speech, in which he called those wanting to dissolve the government “anarchists” and “opportunists,” is unlikely to appease an angry opposition that says the Islamist-led government has failed to carry out the political transition promised after the overthrow of Tunisia’s dictator in January 2011.

On Thursday, left-wing Tunisian politician Mohammed Brahmi was assassinated in Tunis, shot 14 times outside his home in front of his family. That followed the killing of another left-wing opposition legislator, Chokri Belaid, in February.

On Sunday night, thousands of people demonstrated in front of the elected assembly charged with writing the country’s new constitution and demanded that it be dissolved along with the government. Dozens of opposition lawmakers have suspended their participation in the assembly, and Education Minister Salem Labiadh submitted his resignation Monday.

Even more serious for the government, the governing coalition appears to be breaking apart. Mohammed Bennour, spokesman for the left-of-center Ettakatol party, said his group wants to withdraw from the coalition and dissolve the government. That would leave the moderate Islamist Ennahda party that dominates the coalition even more isolated.

In his televised speech, Larayedh presented a road map for completing the democratic transition with a new constitution by the end of August and the passage of the needed election laws by Oct. 23 — the anniversary of the date in 2011 that brought the Ennahda party to power.

He said an election for a new legislative body would be held on Dec. 17, the third anniversary of the self-immolation of itinerant fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi that sparked the uprising that overthrow dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali a month later.

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