Dissident returns to Tunisia, shrugs off legal threat

TUNIS (Reuters) — Veteran dissident Moncef Marzouki returned to Tunisia on Saturday and vowed to campaign for democracy, shrugging off government plans to prosecute him for allegedly inciting Tunisians to commit violence.

“I come here to carry out my struggle peacefully,” the human rights campaigner told reporters after a flight from France, where he has lived and worked since 2001.

The authorities started court proceedings against Marzouki for incitement to violence and civil disobedience after he appealed on al Jazeera television on October 14 for peaceful resistance to the government.

Marzouki, in his early 60s, told the Qatar-based channel “the only possible answer for a population tired of repression and corruption is to begin a civil resistance movement using all peaceful means available to demand its rights and its freedom”.

He also announced on the programme that he planned to return to Tunisia from France on October 21 to be with Tunisians in what he called their struggle for democracy. Marzouki leads a banned opposition party called The Congress for the Republic, which aims to promote democracy in the North African country of 10 million.

He and his supporters say Tunisia has been living under “a regime of false republic and false democracy” since it won independence from France 50 years ago.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is accused by human rights groups and some opposition parties of creating a de facto police state disguised as a democracy since he replaced the father of modern Tunisia, president-for-life Habib Bourguiba, in 1987.

The government says Ben Ali is committed to progressively establishing a genuine democracy. 

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