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Tunisia's Islamists urge US help to support democracy

AFP, Monday 29 Sep 2014
Ghannouchi
Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia's main Islamist Ennahda party, gives a speech during a meeting in Tunis (Photo:Reuters)
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Tunisia's moderate Islamist party Ennahda appealed Monday for US support as the country heads into vital elections, warning democracy remains fragile in the nation that triggered the Arab Spring.

Tunisians ousted longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 and Ennahda emerged at the head of the pack in elections nine months later with 37 percent of the vote.

With looming legislative elections on October 26, followed by a key presidential vote the following month, the party's leader Rached Ghannouchi said Ennahda was "preparing for the second test."

"One flower cannot make the spring," Ghannouchi told a small group of reporters at the US Institute of Peace at the start of a visit to the United States during which he will also meet key US administration officials.

Ennahda last week unveiled an ambitious platform for the parliamentary elections, saying it was confident of a greater victory than the one achieved three years ago.

"By the end of this year we can guarantee that Tunisia will be the first Arab democracy," Ghannouchi said, speaking in English.

"But we need the support of the United States for this experience, which can be considered as the alternative of extremism and terrorism and war," he said.

Ghannouchi pointed to cooperation over the past three years between moderate Islamic parties and moderate secularists in Tunisia as "a very rare experience in the Arab world" and one which can serve as an example that "democracy and Islam can work together, are compatible."

"There is a part of the Middle East (where) there is a candle still shining," he said.

Ennahda rejects any form of what he called "terrorism," but Ghannouchi insisted that to fight groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, a program of social justice was needed to ensure there was food on the table and jobs.

Tunisia was hoping to attract Western investment to boost the north African country's economy.

"In this context of chaos and violence and mistrust... we are here to carry a note of hope, of positive horizons still existing," said Ennahda MP Amel Azzouz.

"We need the US and all our friends to be with us, and to be consistent in supporting this nascent democracy. And Tunisia will be a showcase for the rest of the Arab world," she said.

International observers would help ensure that results from the upcoming elections would be "recognized and respected by everybody," she added.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, who is a secular ally of Ennahda, announced earlier this month that he will stand for re-election in November.

Ghannouchi's aides revealed that there were already some 70 people who have expressed hopes of joining the presidential fight, and so Ennahda was not putting up its own candidate and would wait for the run-off before deciding who to back.

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