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Tunisia celebrates day that last French soldier left the country

Tunisian flag raised up at Belvedere Park in Tunis on 20 March, 2017 [Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian flag raised up at Belvedere Park in Tunis on 20 March, 2017 [Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisia has celebrated the 57th anniversary of Evacuation Day, the day that the last French soldier left the country on 15 October, 1963. France occupied Tunisia in 1881, as part of a partition plan of the Western powers, led by Great Britain and France, to colonise what we now call the “Third World”. The French more or less occupied the Maghreb region of North Africa.

Tunisia won its independence on 20 March, 1956, following a popular and military resistance movement against the French occupation. However, French troops stayed in the country until Evacuation Day, which marks an important stage in Tunisia’s history, as the day when the Tunisians regained full sovereignty over their land.

The resistance movement had not stopped, even after France recognised the country’s independence in 1956, but continued the struggle for full sovereignty. The French had retained a military presence in several regions of Tunisia, notably the city of Bizerte, which stands out for its strategic location south of Sicily. Moreover, France insisted at the time on keeping the land farmed by colonists in Tunisia’s most fertile areas.

The evacuation battle broke out in February 1958 after the French bombardment of Sakiet Sidi Youssef village, in Kef governorate on the Tunisian-Algerian border. The French raid targeted several local institutions and resulted in the martyrdom of dozens of Algerians and Tunisians.

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On 17 July of the same year, the Tunisian government decided to evacuate the remaining French troops from the naval base at Bizerte through diplomatic means, but the situation was a stalemate until mid-1961. On 23 July, a ceasefire was announced to pave the way for negotiations, which ended with France’s announcement of the evacuation of its forces from the town of Bizerte and the naval base.

So it was that on 15 October, 1963, French Admiral Maurice Amman left the city, announcing the end of the French colonial phase in Tunisia.

Evacuation Day is now a national holiday in Tunisia, and the authorities normally hold celebratory events. However, the coronavirus crisis has prevented any kind of celebrations this year. Instead, President Kais Saied pardoned 307 prisoners, stipulating the release of 136 inmates and the reduction of the sentences of others.

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