Tunisia’s president publishes amended draft of constitution with minor changes

President Kais Saied. (AFP)
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Updated 09 July 2022

Tunisia’s president publishes amended draft of constitution with minor changes

TUNIS: Tunisian President Kais Saied has published an amended version of a draft constitution in an attempt to ward off criticism after the original was slammed for the nearly unlimited power it gave his office.

The new constitution, which will be put to a referendum this month, is the centerpiece of Saied’s plan to remake the North African country’s political system.

It was unveiled almost a year after Saied sacked the government, suspended parliament and added wide-ranging powers.

The legal expert who oversaw the constitution’s drafting has disavowed it, saying it was “completely different” from what his committee had submitted and warning that some articles could “pave the way for a dictatorial regime.”

The amended draft, published around midnight on Friday, makes changes to two articles, though it still retains a broad range of powers for the head of state.

Hours before the new text was released, Saied announced in an official video that “clarifications needed to be added to avoid confusion and interpretation.”

Changes have been made to an article that stated Tunisia “is part of the Islamic community” and that “the state must work to achieve the objectives of Islam” — it now adds “within a democratic system.”

The clause had been previously criticized for its ambiguity by those who advocated for a completely secular system, and international rights group Amnesty International had warned it could “provide a mandate to discriminate against other religious groups.”

The other amendment is to an article about rights and freedoms, which now clarifies that “no restriction may be placed on the rights and freedoms guaranteed in this Constitution except by law and necessity imposed by a democratic order.”

The rest of the document remains largely unchanged.

Saied wants a presidential system to replace the country’s 2014 constitution, which enshrined a mixed presidential-parliamentary system often beset by deadlock and marred by corruption.

Under his proposal, “the president of the republic carries out executive functions with help from the government,”  whose chief would be appointed by the president and not subject to confidence votes in parliament.

The document would water down the role of parliament, creating a new parliamentary chamber for “regions and districts,” chiming with Saied’s long-held vision for a decentralization of power.

The president would be the head of the armed forces and be charged with naming judges, who would be banned from striking.

Some Tunisians have welcomed Saied’s moves against the sclerotic system that emerged from the revolt that toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.


US seeks to keep Yemen-bound ammunition seized from Iran

Updated 01 April 2023

US seeks to keep Yemen-bound ammunition seized from Iran

WASHINGTON: The United States is seeking to keep more than 1 million rounds of ammunition the US Navy seized in December as it was in transit from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to militants in Yemen, the Justice Department said on Friday.
“The United States disrupted a major operation by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to smuggle weapons of war into the hands of a militant group in Yemen,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
“The Justice Department is now seeking the forfeiture of those weapons, including over 1 million rounds of ammunition and thousands of proximity fuses for rocket-propelled grenades.”
US naval forces on Dec. 1 intercepted a fishing trawler smuggling more than 50 tons of ammunition rounds, fuses and propellants for rockets in the Gulf of Oman along a maritime route from Iran to Yemen, the Navy said.
They found more than 1 million rounds of 7.62mm ammunition; 25,000 rounds of 12.7mm ammunition; nearly 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets; and over 2,100 kilograms of propellant used to launch rocket propelled grenades, it said.
The forfeiture action is part of a larger government investigation into an Iranian weapons-smuggling network that supports military action by the Houthi movement in Yemen and the Iranian regime’s campaign of terrorist activities throughout the region, the Justice Department said.
The forfeiture complaint alleges a sophisticated scheme by the IRGC to clandestinely ship weapons to entities that pose grave threats to US national security.

Russia protests about ‘provocative actions’ by US forces in Syria

Updated 2 min 20 sec ago

Russia protests about ‘provocative actions’ by US forces in Syria

Russia has protested to the American-led coalition against the Daesh militant group about “provocative actions” by US armed forces in Syria, Tass news agency said on Friday.
Tass cited a senior Russian official as saying the incidents had occurred in the northeastern province of Hasakah. The United States has been deploying troops in Syria for almost eight years to combat Daesh.
Hundreds of Daesh fighters are camped in desolate areas where neither the coalition nor the Syrian army exert full control. Russia — which together with Turkiye is carrying out joint patrols in northern Syria — has agreed special zones where the coalition can operate.
But Russian Rear Admiral Oleg Gurinov, head of the Russian Reconciliation Center for Syria, told Tass that US forces had twice been spotted in areas which lay outside the agreed zones.
“Provocative actions on the part of US armed forces units have been noted in Hasakah province ... the Russian side lodged a protest with the coalition,” he said, without giving details of timing.
Last week the US military carried out multiple air strikes in Syria against Iran-aligned groups that it blamed for a drone attack that killed an American contractor at a coalition base in the northeast of the country.
Russia intervened in the Syrian Civil War in 2015, tipping the balance in President Bashar Assad’s favor. Moscow has since expanded its military facilities in the country with a permanent air base and also has a naval base.

Tunisia introduces water quota system due to severe drought

Updated 31 March 2023

Tunisia introduces water quota system due to severe drought

  • Tunisia recorded drop in dam capacity due to rain scarcity
  • Agriculture ministry banned use of potable water to wash cars, water green areas, clean streets and public places

TUNIS: Tunisia on Friday introduced a quota system for potable water and banned its use in agriculture until Sept. 30 in response to a severe drought that has hit the country, the agriculture ministry said.
Tunisia, which is suffering a fourth straight year of serious drought, recorded a drop in its dam capacity to around 1 billion cubic meters, or 30 percent of the maximum, due to a scarcity of rain from September 2022 to mid-March 2023, senior agriculture ministry official Hamadi Habib said.
The agriculture ministry also banned the use of potable water to wash cars, water green areas and clean streets and public places. Violators face a fine and imprisonment for a period of between six days to six months, according to the Water Law.
Residents said that Tunisian authorities have for the last two weeks been cutting off drinking water at night in some areas of the capital and other cities in a bid to cut consumption, a move that has sparked widespread anger. The government declined to comment on the claim.
The new decision threatens to fuel social tension in a country whose people suffer from poor public services, high inflation and a weak economy.
The Sidi Salem Dam in the north of the country, a key provider of drinking water to several regions, has declined to only 16 percent of its maximum capacity of 580 million cubic meters, official figures showed.
Tunisia’s grain harvest will be “disastrous,” with the drought-hit crop declining to 200,000-250,000 tons this year from 750,000 tons in 2022, senior farmers union official Mohamed Rjaibia told Reuters on Thursday.

At least 14 workers dead in gold mine collapse in Sudan

Updated 31 March 2023

At least 14 workers dead in gold mine collapse in Sudan

  • The workers died after the roof of the Jebel Al-Ahmar gold mine collapsed
  • Many other miners still missing

KHARTOUM, Sudan: At least 14 workers are dead after a gold mine collapsed in northern Sudan, state mining authorities said Friday.
According to the state-run news agency, SUNA, the fatal collapse happened after one of the hillsides that surround the Jebel Al-Ahmar gold mine — situated near the Egyptian border — gave way Thursday afternoon.
Many other miners are still missing among the rubble, it said.
Witnesses cited by SUNA said the workers were searching inside mining wells for gold using heavy machinery which caused the collapse.
Several of the bodies, mostly of young men, have been recovered from the site and search efforts are ongoing, SUNA said.
A security source cited by the state agency said workers are feared to be trapped beneath the mine’s groundwater. Few further details were given.
Collapses are common in Sudan’s gold mines, where safety standards and maintenance are poor.
In 2021, 31 people were killed after a defunct gold mine collapsed in West Kordofan province.
Sudan is a major gold producer with various mines scattered across the country.


Iran officer dies in new Israel strike in Syria

Updated 31 March 2023

Iran officer dies in new Israel strike in Syria

  • Second missile attack in two days
  • No immediate statement from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria

JEDDAH: An officer in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed in an Israeli missile strike early on Friday on Iran-linked targets on the outskirts of Damascus in Syria.

The attack on an arms depot for Assad regime forces and Iran-backed groups just south of the Syrian capital was the sixth by Israel this month, and the second in two days.

The Revolutionary Guards said the dead man, Milad Haydari, was an officer and military adviser. They vowed to response, and said the “criminal attack” would not go unanswered.

Syrian state media said Israel had attacked just after midnight, firing missiles that hit a site in the Damascus countryside. Syrian air defenses had shot down a number of missiles, it said.

Iranian-backed groups, including Iraqi militias and Hezbollah in Lebanon, have positions around Damascusand in Syria’s north, east and south.

Israel has for years carried out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting Bashar Assad in the civil war that began in 2011.

Iran says its officers serve in an advisory role in Syria at the invitation of Damascus. Dozens of Revolutionary Guard members, including senior officers, have been killed in Syria during the war.

“This is a very dangerous stage, the risks are very high and we should expect more to come,” said Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. “The risk of escalation between Iran and Israel in Syria is higher than any time in the past few months, even possibly years.”

The latest violence underlined the possibility of further tensions in Syria even as several Arab countries move to normalize ties with Assad after 12 years of enmity. Syria remains partitioned, with several foreign armies on the ground, including US troops.

Iran-backed groups launched armed drones last week at a base hosting US forces in the northeast, killing one American contractor and injuring another. The US responded with airstrikes on installations in eastern Syria affiliated with the Revolutionary Guards.

Friday's attack followed a strike on Thursday that wounded two soldiers. A source with Syria's opposition factions said it hit a car carrying pro-Iran personnel near a Syrian security building.

On March 22, an Israeli strike near the airport at the northern city of Aleppo briefly put it out of service. Regional intelligence sources said the attack hit an Iranian arms depot.