By Michel Cousins.
Tripoli, 26 June:
The Tunisian government has categorically denied that there was any financial deal behind the delivery of the . . .[restrict]Qaddafi regime’s last prime minister, Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, to the Libyan authorities on Sunday. At a press conference, Tunisia’s Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri and its Human Rights and Transitional Justice Minister Samir Dilou insisted that the decision to hand over Mahmoudi had been “transparent” and above board.
“The extradition process took place after completion of all legal justifications by the relevant judicial authorities”, Dilou said.
Suspicions of a deal surfaced in Tunisia after reports of a Libyan offer to assure it of oil supplies at below market price and make a multi-million dollar cash injective into its economy. The offer was made during the visit to Tunis a month ago by Prime Minister Abdurrahim Al-Kib and a number of his cabinet colleagues. Libya’s demand that Mahmoudi be handed over to face charges of corruption and inciting Qaddafi forces to rape women during last year’s revolution were discussed during the visit.
The decision to hand over Mahmoudi has deeply divided Tunisia and threatens to bring down its government. President Moncef Marzouki has denounced the move as “illegal” and said that Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali who took the decision had “overstepped his prerogatives” and would be held personally responsible for anything that happened to Baghdadi.
It is “the start of a grave governmental crisis” disclosed presidential spokesman Adnen Mansar.
Today, Tuesday, in an indication of the scale of the crisis, other opposition parties in the constituent assembly rallied to the president’s support and staged a walk out in protest at the extradition. The walk out by 73 deputies followed a bitter row when the speaker refused to allow a debate on the subject.
It is difficult to see the issue being easily resolved.
Marzouki leads Tunisia’s center-left Congress for the Republic (CPR), one of the three parties in the governing coalition led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party. It came first in last October’s elections. CPR came second and the other party in the coalition, Ettakatol (also centre-left), came third. But there is now a serious possibility that Marzouki will pull his party out of the government. He has built his reputation as a defender of human rights and has made it clear that that as far as he is concerned, Ennahda has ridden roughshod over them.
If he does, Ettakatol will probably leave as well. Its leader, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, is the speaker who refused today’s debate and clearly wants to avoid a crisis. But four of his members joined the walk out. Even if it sticks with Ennahda, the government would still collapse if the CPR quits the coalition.
A motion of no confidence in Jebali is now being planned.
However, not all Tunisians agree with the president. There are voices that support the decision, linking it to Tunisia’s own demand that Saudi Arabia extradite its former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
For its part, the increasingly isolated Ennahda has accused its opponents of trying to defend a criminal. Dilou, too, has insisted that Prime Minister Jebali had been fully within his rights to sign the extradition decision.
Meanwhile in Tripoli, Salah Darhoub, the new NTC spokesman, has said that the authorities have began their investigations of Mahmoudi.
Thanking the Tunisian government and people for handing him over to Chief of Staff Yousef Mangoush and representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Darhoub said the former prime minister was in good health and that he was now being held in a prison controlled by the Ministry of Justice. Seemingly oblivious to the row in Tunisia, he also thanked the Tunisian president for the handover.
The Libyan government have also today dismissed claims by Mahmoudi’s French lawyer, Marcel Ceccaldi, that his client had been beaten up and then treated in hospital after arriving back in Libya.
“I completely deny reports that Mahmudi was assaulted,” Deputy Justice Minister Khalifa Ashur was quoted as saying.
A firm denial too came from Hisham Al-Atiri, the doctor assigned to look after him on a daily basis at the detention centre where he is being held. “There were no signs of beatings. He only has diabetes and no other condition,” he told AFP. [/restrict]