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Kerry in surprise Tunisia trip to support democracy

AFP , Tuesday 18 Feb 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry (Photo: Reuters)
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US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Tunisia Tuesday on an unannounced trip, in a sign of support for the country where the Arab Spring was triggered three years ago.

Kerry was to meet "senior officials to discuss the progress made in Tunisia's democratic transition," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The top US diplomat often references in his speeches the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself alight in protest at his country's lack of democracy.

The shocking self-immolation sparked the January 2011 revolution that toppled the autocratic regime of veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ignited the Arab Spring uprisings that spread across North Africa and parts of the Middle East.

During his brief visit, Kerry was to meet new Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa and President Moncef Marzouki for discussions and to show "continued US support for the Tunisian people and government", Psaki said.

"What is unique, or at least striking in particular about Tunisia, is the willingness of opposing sides to reach out and show some inclusiveness and cooperation", a senior US administration official said, asking not to be named.

"What's positive and even inspiring in Tunisia is the demonstrated willingness not to take power and hold on to it", he added, pointing to the new constitution adopted last month and the swearing in of a new technocratic interim government.

Tunisia's new leaders have grappled with violence amid a surge in Islamist unrest, which also led to the assassination last year of two opposition politicians Chokri Belaid and leftist MP Mohamed Brahmi.

The killings sparked a political crisis between the majority Islamist party Ennahda and their secular opponents, from which the country is only now emerging with the adoption in January of the new constitution.

Ennahda won Tunisia's first free elections in October 2011, following Ben Ali's ouster in the uprising.

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