Germany pledges election, judicial aid for Tunisia

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Germany will help Tunisia hold elections and reform the justice system following the overthrow of its authoritarian ruler, a rights chief said Saturday after talks with Berlin's visiting foreign minister.

Mokhtar Trifi said Guido Westerwelle had told him Berlin was willing to provide expert and logistical assistance for the polls, which are expected to be held within the next six months.

"He also said that several German foundations as well as the government would assist in judicial reforms," Trifi, president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights, added.

Judges demonstrated Saturday in Tunis calling for independence of the judiciary, which had been an instrument of repression under the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The head of the Tunisian Magistrates Association, Ahmed Roumani, told the official TAP news agency that the current caretaker government was still keeping a tight grip on the justice system.

Westerwelle arrived earlier Saturday in Tunis, where he was to meet Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and heads of the various commissions tasked with political reform and investigating the various abuses and corruption of the ousted regime.

Accompanied by two junior ministers responsible for economic matters and development aid, he was also to meet representatives of the former opposition and "members of the Tunisian blogger scene", his ministry said Friday.

"The aim of minister Westerwelle's visit is to give a clear signal that Germany and Europe are ready to assist Tunisia in this ongoing period of transformation," it said.

Westerwelle's visit follows that earlier this week of British Foreign Secretary William Hague, while chief European Union diplomat Catherine Ashton will be in Tunisia on Monday.

Germany said Thursday it would take part in an international conference soon to be organised by Tunisia to discuss how foreign governments can assist in the "political and economic transformation" after mass protests led to the downfall of Ben Ali on January 14.

The caretaker government is under extreme political and social pressure, with the head of the main labour union calling the situation "explosive."

Organised and spontaneous strikes have slowed the economy and the new government's pledge to cut ties with the former regime has done little to appease resentment among the country's poorest.

On the political front, arguments rage between those who want elections in six months as planned and those who want more time for new political forces to emerge so that the Tunisian revolution is not hijacked.

© 2011 AFP

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