Tunisia to bid President Essebsi farewell at state funeral

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Late President Beji Caid Essebsi’s body is being moved from the presidential palace in Carthage to Anas ibn Malik Mosque as Tunisia prepares to bid farewell to its first democratically elected President Beji Caid Essebsi on Saturday at a state funeral attended by foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron.

Essebsi, who helped guide the North African country’s transition to democracy after the 2011 revolution, died aged 92 on Thursday.

The state funeral is expected to start at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT). Those attending will also include Algerian President Abdelkader Ben Saleh, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, along with thousands of Tunisians.

Many roads have been closed and security forces deployed in most areas of the capital and near the Al Jallaz cemetery.

Hours after Essebsi’s death, parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president in line with the constitution. The electoral commission announced a presidential election for Sept. 15, two months earlier than scheduled. A parliamentary vote is set for Oct. 6.

Essebsi rose to prominence after the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, which was followed by “Arab Spring” revolts against authoritarian leaders across the Middle East and North Africa, including in Libya and Egypt.

Drafted in as premier after Ben Ali’s fall, Essebsi in 2012 founded the secular Nidaa Tounes party, now part of the governing coalition, to counter-balance the resurgence of extremists who were suppressed under Ben Ali. Two years later, Essebsi became Tunisia’s first freely elected head of state.

On behalf of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Prince Mansour Bin Muteb bin Abdulaziz, and Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Fahad bin Abdulaziz arrived at the Tunisian capital on Saturday to attend the funeral. They were received by Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui upon their arrival.

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