Tunisia protesters speak out against new anti-graft law

AFP , Saturday 16 Sep 2017

Tunisians take part in a demonstration on September 16, 2017 in Tunis to protest the parliament's passing of an amnesty law for officials accused of corruption under toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. (Photo: AFP)

More than 1,000 people protested Saturday in Tunis against a controversial amnesty law adopted by parliament for officials accused of corruption under toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The law passed on Wednesday evening after a rowdy parliamentary debate following a cabinet reshuffle that saw Ben Ali-era officials join the cabinet as ministers of finance and education.

The reshuffle was seen as strengthening President Beji Caid Essebsi's grip on power, months ahead of Tunisia's first post-revolution municipal polls.

"We do not forgive!" and "We refuse to launder the corrupt!", protesters shouted at the demonstration which was organised by the opposition and the "I will not forgive" collective.

They also branded Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's Nidaa Tounes party and the Islamist movement Ennahdha which supported the bill "enemies of the revolution, enemies of the martyrs".

The protest by mostly young people took place under tight security along Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis, the hub of the 2011 revolution that brought about Ben Ali's downfall.

"This is a shameful law for Tunisia! It recognises corruption and forgives the corrupt," said opposition parliamentarian Samia Abbou.

Proposed by Essebsi in mid-2015, the bill grants an amnesty to businesspeople and Ben Ali officials on trial for corruption, in exchange for returning ill-gotten money plus paying a fine.

In the face of growing public anger, the text was revised to cover only officials accused of involvement in administrative corruption, not those who received bribes.

Hamma Hammami, leader of the Popular Front party, accused Essebsi of seeking to exonerate Ben Ali-era officials.

"Beji Caid Essebsi is today at the head of the counter-revolution with Rached Ghannouchi," the head of Ennahdha, Hammami said.

He added that he feared "a return to a despotic and authoritarian regime".

The presidency has defended the new law, saying it was needed to protect the economy and "free up the energies" of the government.

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