World

Tunisia beach attack demands state of emergency: president

Tunisia's president has declared a state of emergency following a shooting eight days ago that killed 38 foreign tourists, most of them from Britain.

'Exceptional situation required exceptional measures,' Beji Caid Essebsi tells nation

A trumpet is played near a plaque honouring the 38 victims killed in a terrorist attack on a beach in the popular tourist resort of al-Sousse, Tunisia, on Saturday. (Mohamed Messaram/EPA)

President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a state of emergency in Tunisia on Saturday following an Islamic militant attack on a beach hotel, where 38 foreign tourists, mostly Brits, were killed, TAP news agency said.

A state of emergency temporarily gives the government more flexibility and the army and police more authority, and restricts the right of public assembly. Tunisia last had a state of emergency during the 2011 uprising against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi explains to the North African nation why he imposed a state of emergency after 38 tourists were killed in an attack on the Sousse holiday resort on June 26. (EPA)

With a nationwide televised address, Essebsi officially reintroduced urgent security measures for Tunisia that had been lifted in March 2014.

Essebsi said an "exceptional situation required exceptional measures" but pledged to respect freedom of expression.

The decision came just over a week after a gunman at the popular beach resort of Sousse attacked foreign tourists, killing 38 people. Essebsi said the state of emergency would last 30 days.

"Tunisia faces a very serious danger and it should take any possible measures to maintain security and safety," he said. "As we see in other countries, if attacks like Sousse happen again, the country will collapse."

Essebsi blamed the poor security in Libya for Tunisia's problems, and the lack of international resolve in targeting the Islamic State group throughout the region. He said Tunisia specifically had been a target of the extremist group because it had a functioning, secular democracy.

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      A Tunisian student identified as Seifeddine Rezgui gunned down vacationers along the beach in the resort town of Sousse on June 26 before police shot and killed him.

      On Friday, the bodies of eight of the British victims arrived at a military airport in Oxfordshire. Their coffins were flown to Brize Norton military airbase, and were carried to waiting hearses.

      So far 25 bodies have been repatriated, with the final five expected to return to the U.K. on Saturday.  
       
      Friday marked a week since the attack on the beach resort, where 30 of the victims were British.  
       
      The United Kingdom marked the occasion with a nationwide minute of silence held at midday local time.  

      Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack. Tunisian investigators believe that accomplices provided the Kalashnikov assault rifle to Rezgui and helped him get to the scene of the shooting.

      A senior security official in Tunisia, Rafik Chelli, told The Associated Press this week that Rezgui likely trained in a jihadi camp in Libya at the same time as the two men who attacked a leading Tunisian museum in March.

      More Tunisians — about 3,000 — are believed to have gone to Syria and Iraq to join radical jihadis including the Islamic State group than fighters from any other country.

      A cortege carrying the coffins of eight of the British nationals killed in the mass shooting in Tunisia are driven from RAF Brize Norton near Oxford on Friday. (Darren Staples/Reuters)

      With files from The Associated Press

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