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Wednesday, 22 August, 2001, 22:22 GMT 23:22 UK
Tunisia opposition fights constitution change
Map
By North Africa correspondent David Bamford

A prominent Tunisian opposition leader has opened a campaign to block moves to change the constitution so that the current head of state can stand for a fourth term as president.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who has ruled Tunisia since 1987, has been widely criticised by human rights groups abroad for overseeing a system of increasing repression against voices of government dissent.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia
President Ben Ali has been in power since 1987
The development of satellite television has made the task of suppression much more difficult.

Moncef Marzouki's opposition party, the Congress for the Republic, has fired its opening shots in what is expected to be a bitter political struggle over the coming months about a proposed change to the constitution.

Amendment

An amendment to Article 39 would allow President Ben Ali to compete in forthcoming elections for a fourth term in office.

Since the start of August, Tunisian newspapers have been full of carefully co-ordinated appeals by one state-sponsored institution after another calling on President Ben Ali to stand in 2004.

Habib Bourguiba, ousted as president in 1987
The last president was deposed in a bloodless coup
Mr Ben Ali has been in power since 1987 when, as prime minister, he ousted the then President-for-life, the 84-year-old Habib Bourguiba, on the grounds of senility.

After a brief period of liberalisation, President Ben Ali repressed first the Islamist Movement and later leftists, liberals - indeed any voice of even moderate criticism.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the situation has worsened significantly over the last year.

One likely reason for this is that, while dissenters have no significant access to the media in Tunisia, critics can now be seen and heard regularly on Arab satellite television programmes broadcasting from the Middle East and Europe.

See also:

30 Apr 01 | Middle East
Tunisia condemned for rights record
30 Jul 00 | Middle East
Tunisia human rights row
02 Feb 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tunisia
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