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Tunisians pick first freely elected president

Updated: 2014-12-23 09:14

Tunisians pick first freely elected president

Beji Caid Essebsi (C), Nidaa Tounes party leader, gestures outside the party headquarters in Tunis December 21, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

TUNIS/ALGIERS - Presidential candidate Moncef Marzouki congratulated on Monday Beji Caid Essebsi on his election as Tunisia's fifth president, also the first freely elected head of state in the nation's history.

"Mr. Marzouki just congratulated Essebsi for his victory," said Adnan Mansar, Marzouki's campaign director. He also urged the Tunisians to remain united and peaceful.

A total of 3.1 million Tunisians, representing 60 percent of eligible voters, participated in the second round of the presidential elections on Sunday.

Beji Caid Essebsi earned about 55.7 percent of the votes while Marzouki earned around 44,3 percent, announced Chafik Sarsar, head of the Elections Board (ISIE) during a press conference on Monday.

Beji Caid Essebsi, aged 88, is leader and founder of the Nidaa Tounes party, which won 86 seats in the new parliament, beating the Islamist party of Ennahdha.

Essebsi has been criticized for his past political career. He is known as "student of the first President Habib Bourguiba." Essebsi was a minister under Bourguiba and head of parliament under the second President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali.

Following the popular uprisings of December 2010 and January 2011, he served as interim prime minister before the elections of October 2011.

According to the preliminary results, the governorates of the North and the coast opted for Essbesi while southern governorates chose Marzouki.

Exit polls reflected Essebsi's victory late on Sunday. This pushed citizens in the south to protest the results. Protests in Gabes turned violent and security forces used tear gas to disperse the crowds.

On Monday, confrontations spread throughout the south in regions like Douz, Medenine, and Tataouine. The interior ministry condemned the violent protests in a communique Monday evening.

Essebsi was congratulated by world leaders, including US President Barak Obama, and leaders of neighboring countries such as Egyptian President Abdelfattah Sissi.

The Elections Board will announce the final results following potential appeals to the administrative court within the next three days.

Also on Monday, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika hailed Tunisia's successful presidential election and congratulated President-Elect Beji Caid Essebsi.

Algeria is committed to working with the newly elected president to deepen their "brotherly" relations, to promote a brand new stage of "comprehensive and sustainable partnership," and to strengthen coordination and consultation over common challenges, he said.

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