UN rights chief concerned about Tunisia turmoil, offers help

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UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet voiced her concerns about the political turmoil in Tunisia in a phonecall with the foreign minister, and offered her assistance if required, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi called the high commissioner for human rights after President Kais Saied seized power on July 25 following violent demonstrations against the government.

“It’s a worrying situation. We are following really closely and we know the challenges the country is facing,” Marta Hurtado, a spokeswoman for Bachelet’s office, told reporters in Geneva.

“What we hope is that all the achievements toward democratic reform that they have been doing over the last 10 years can be maintained and preserved, and that there’s no regression in any way.”

Tunisia has often been praised as a rare success story for its democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings sparked by its 2011 revolution.

But many Tunisians are angered at a political class seen as obsessed with power struggles and disconnected from the suffering of the poor, amid high unemployment and spiralling prices.

In a surprise move, Saied sacked prime minister Hichem Mechichi late last month and suspended parliament for 30 days. He ordered a graft crackdown targeting 460 businessmen and an investigation into alleged illegal funding of political parties.

The move plunged Tunisia into political turmoil, adding to the crippling economic crisis as well as a wave of COVID-19 infections.

Hurtado said former Chilean president Bachelet told Jerandi “that we are here to support them — we have an office on the ground in Tunisia — and we are closely following the situation and we are there to help, should they ask for it.

“We are concerned at what is happening but we trust that the authorities have the capacity to deal with it,. But we are open to any request that they might have for help.”

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said that the country may be over the peak of the latest wave but the government must still speed up inoculations.

“The epidemiological data are going in the right direction,” WHO representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand told a press conference. “We have the feeling that the peak of the epidemic may have passed.”

But with vaccines in short supply, overwhelmed hospitals, shortages of oxygen and the highly contagious Delta variant rampaging through the country’s 12 million population mean the risk of a health disaster remains, the WHO warned.

The Delta variant was responsible for “more than 90 percent” of cases, and the impact of family gatherings during a recent religious holiday was hard to evaluate but could set back progress made, Souteyrand said. “The challenge is to speed up the vaccination campaign,” he said.

The country had “in 10 days received around seven million vaccine doses and will receive perhaps two or three million more” soon, he said.

The WHO has also provided 400 oxygen concentrators and four oxygen generators to Tunisia.
Since the shock move late last month, Saied has established a coronavirus crisis unit, supervised by a high-level military official, to help manage the country’s outbreak.

Souteyrand said that “relations between the WHO and the health ministry have not been affected by the political crisis.”

The health ministry on Monday announced the start of a mobile vaccination campaign in several regions.
Authorities have also announced a vaccination drive across the country on Sunday for Tunisians aged over 40.

Over the past seven days, the North African country has registered the worst official Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, with 10.64 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, an AFP tally based on officially reported data shows.

On the other hand, Tunisia shares its coronavirus data more transparently than many other countries, the WHO said.

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