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As parliament debates amnesty bill, Tunisia protests

Supporters of Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed gather to demonstrate in support of struggles against corruption in Tunis, Tunisia on May 26, 2017 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisians gather to demonstrate in support of struggles against corruption in Tunis, Tunisia on May 26, 2017 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisia's Parliament this week began a debate on a highly contested bill that grants amnesty to officials accused of corruption during the rule of ousted former President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, triggering protests in the capital.

Opposition lawmakers gathered in the capital Tunis where they held up banners that read "we will not forgive!" and "This law will not pass" as they sang the national anthem before the session was temporarily suspended.

The Economic Reconciliation bill was initially amended from an original draft following months of protests against the fact that it grants amnesty to corrupt businessmen.

Critics of the bill argue that it is a regression from the revolutionary spirit in 2011, which was defined by its fight against corruption, saying it is a step back from the spirit of Tunisia's 2011 revolution.

The bill was first proposed by President Beji Caid Essebsi, a former Ben Ali official, in 2015. But debate surrounding whether the bill should be adopted was postponed after criticism that the original bill benefited business elites with ties to the government.

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This week, tensions increased between the ruling coalition and opposition lawmakers, who argue that the Supreme Judicial Council had not yet given its answer after being consulted by the Parliament on the legality of the bill.

Read more: Tunisia's democratic transition has some achievements but still faces obstacles

"This law is an advanced stage of counterrevolution," opposition lawmaker Ammar Amroussia explained at the protest.

However, the government has defended the bill saying the law helps the country move on from its past and improves its chances for investment by giving confidence to the administration.

"The time has come to stop the isolation of those officials who could contribute to the building of the new Tunisia," Mohamed Souf, of the governing Nidaa Tounes party, said.

Youssef Chahed's government has made fighting corruption its top priority since 2016 and has clamped down on a number of business men and officials who have been found guilty of taking bribes or partaking in corruption.

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