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Tunisians come out in force to protest Saudi Crown Prince's visit

Zoubeir Souissi, Reuters | Tunisians take to the streets to protest the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince.

Hundreds of Tunisians protested on Tuesday against a visit by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, denouncing the kingdom's de facto ruler as a murderer in a second straight day of demonstrations condemning the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

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Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, heir to the throne of Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, left Cairo on Tuesday and was expected in Tunis in late afternoon on a tour that has also taken him to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

The killing of Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a critic of the crown prince, at Riyadh's consulate in Istanbul six weeks ago has strained Saudi Arabia's ties with the West and battered Prince Mohammed's image abroad.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said last month that Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

Hundreds of protesters marched through the central Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis, scene of the mass protests that toppled Ben Ali in 2011.

They chanted "the murderer is not welcome in Tunisia" and "Shame on Tunisia's rulers" for receiving bin Salman.

Protesters also called for an end to the Saudi-led military campaign in neighboring Yemen, which was launched by Prince Mohammed in his role as defence minister in 2015.

Journalists put up a huge banner at their union showing the prince with a saw, which Turkish sources have said was used to dismember Khashoggi in Istanbul. It read: "No to the pollution of the Tunisian revolution."

Dozens of Tunisian rights activists and journalists staged a similar protest on Monday.

In an apparent attempt to avoid embarrassing the prince, the presidency only invited photographers to cover his visit. It will not hold a news conference, a usual event at top visits.

Last week Nourredine Ben Ticha, adviser to Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi, said the truth about the killing of the Saudi journalist needed to be established but the incident should not be used to harm the kingdom's stability.

Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are very different political systems. The kingdom is an absolute monarchy while Tunisia has undergone a democratic transition since 2011.

The north African country has been holding free elections since then and agreed in 2014 on a constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights such as freedom of speech.

Tunisia was a strong Saudi ally under Ben Ali but ties have since been strained at times. The kingdom granted exile to Ben Ali who flew to Jeddah on the Red Sea after his ousting, resisting calls by some Tunisian parties to hand him over.

Another irritant is that moderate Islamists have been sharing power with secularists in Tunisia since 2011. Some critics have likened the Tunisian Ennahda party to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Saudi Arabia.

In contrast, Tunisia has since 2011 expanded cooperation with Qatar, with which Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states severed trade and transport ties in June 2017. The four accused Doha of supporting terrorism and Iran   charges Doha denies.

Tunisia also has strong ties with Turkey, whose relations with Saudi Arabia have been strained by the Khashoggi killing.

The prince is expected to fly on to a G20 summit in Argentina at the end of his Tunisia visit.

(REUTERS)

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