Libyan ex-PM extradition rattles Tunisia alliance

TUNIS, Cecile Feuillatre- Tunisia's post-revolution political alliance faced its deepest crisis yet Monday after the Islamist prime minister ignored the president's opposition to the extradition of a former top Libyan official.
President Moncef Marzouki was furious that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali ordered the transfer to Libya of Moamer Kadhafi's last prime minister, Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, without his consent.

Libyan ex-PM extradition rattles Tunisia alliance
Marzouki has always opposed the extradition, arguing Libya's new regime offered insufficient guarantees of a fair trial, and was in southern Tunisia Sunday for an official ceremony when Jebali ordered the move.
The veteran human rights activist did not sign the extradition order and, according to his adviser, found out about Mahmudi's transfer through the media.
The presidency "considers this decision is illegal, all the more so because it has been done unilaterally and without consulting the president of the republic," a statement from Marzouki's office said.
"The extradition decision, signed by the head of the Tunisian government, constitutes a clear violation of our country's international commitments and those towards the UN," the statement added.
The government on Monday retorted there was nothing illegal with the extradition procedure and that Marzouki was duly informed.
"The presidency was informed Sunday of Mr Mahmudi's extradition," spokesman Samir Dilou said.
"As soon as the head of the government signed the extradition order, all relevant institutions were informed," Justice Minister Nourredine B'Hiri said Monday.
The virulence of the humiliated Marzouki's statement revealed the uneasy nature of his alliance with Jebali's Ennahda (Renaissance) party, which won Tunisia's post-uprising polls in October 2011.
The Islamist movement won the most votes in the election for the constituent assembly but had to form an alliance with other leading parties.
A power-sharing deal handed the prime minister's job to Ennahda, the presidency to Marzouki's Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the post of parliament speaker to Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who heads the leftist Ettakatol.
Marzouki has tried to retain control of Tunisia's foreign policy in recent months but the row over Mahmudi's extradition illustrated how little sway he really holds.
"Mr. Mahmudi's extradition is a matter pertaining to Tunisia's foreign policy and this field is part of the presidency's prerogatives," Marzouki's statement said.
But Tunisia's three-way power deal is not an even split and Jebali, Tunisia's real boss, had warned earlier this month that Mahmudi's fate did not require presidential approval and it was for the judiciary to decide.
Marzouki's camp was in a combative mood Sunday and threatened to take the matter to the constituent assembly, the interim body tasked with drafting a new constitution and preparing fresh polls.
Mahmudi's French lawyer, Marcel Ceccaldi, said his client's extradition was a "kidnapping" and accused Jebali's government of acting like thugs.
"This is an extradition towards a rogue country by a government using gangster methods," Ceccaldi said in Paris.
"This government speaks of democracy and human rights but in practice it constantly breaks them since in Tunisia, according to applicable law, it is the president who must sign an extradition decree," he said.
The political leadership of Tunisia's governing troika agreed to meet Monday in a bid to defuse the row.
"There was disagreement but it should not be blown out of proportion," Abdelwahab Maattar, a lawmaker from Marzouki's party, told AFP.
"Is it really in our interest now, considering the situation the country is in, to start a new crisis? The president is legitimately furious but we need to take it on the chin and preserve the troika."
"Let's not escalate the situation," said Ennahda spokesman Nejib Gharbi. "I don't think the troika's future is at risk. It's a strategic alliance."
Recent religious tensions in Tunisia have also rattled the alliance, with Ennahda often accused of not taking a tough enough line against Salafist groups pushing for a strict implementation of sharia.
Political analyst Ahmed Manai predicted that the affront to Marzouki would leave scars but also argued that the alliance would survive the incident.
"The damage here is mainly to Mocef Marzouki himself and his standing. He knows he owes Ennahda everything, he knows that his political future depends on them and he cannot afford to confront them," he said.

Tuesday, June 26th 2012
Cecile Feuillatre

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