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Essebsi declared Tunisia presidential winner

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Beji Caid Essebsi has won Tunisia’s presidential run-off vote, seen as the last step in a shift to full democracy four years after an uprising toppled long-time leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Essebsi, an 88-year-old former parliament speaker under Ben Ali, defeated Moncef Marzouki, the incumbent president, with 55.68 percent of the votes on Tuesday, the authorities said.

Earlier on Monday, police fired teargas in a southern city of Hamma to disperse hundreds of youths who burned tyres and blocked streets to demonstrate against Essebsi who had declared he had won Sunday’s presidential vote, residents said.

“All shops are closed. They are chanting ‘No to the old regime’,” said Ammar Giloufi, a local resident.

Soon after polls closed on Sunday night, Essebsi, quickly announced that he had won by a clear margin and jubilant supporters took to the streets of the capital in celebration, chanting “Beji President!”

Voting was largely pronounced free and fair with a turnout rate of 60.11 percent, less than the nearly 70 percent in the previous round and legislative elections in October.

Essebsi’s victory will enable him to consolidate power, with his new secular party, Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia), already controlling parliament after defeating the main Islamist party in legislative elections in October.

“I dedicate my victory to the martyrs of Tunisia. I thank Marzouki, and now we should work together without excluding anyone,” Essebsi told local television.

The landmark second-round vote sets Tunisia apart from the turmoil of other Arab countries that went through uprisings that started in 2011 and were known by some as “the Arab Spring”.

The election was held amid tight security and the closure of main border posts with strife-torn neighbour Libya and is considered Tunisia’s first free presidential election since independence from France in 1956.

“This election doesn’t interest me,” said a young man sitting in a crowded cafe in front of a polling station in the capital Tunis’ lower income neighbourhood of Yasmina.

“I voted before, but I feel the candidates lie. They promise to create jobs for the youth and improve living conditions, but they don’t keep them.”

Essebsi, who was the early favourite after taking 39 percent of the vote in last month’s first round, has promised to restore the “prestige of the state” after unrest and economic problems marked the years since the uprising.

“I voted for Beji Essebsi, because he has a lot of experience, and we have a lot of faith in him that he will fix the country,” one supporter told Al Jazeera.

Marzouki, who took 33 percent of the vote last month, has warned that Essebsi, whose party also won October’s parliamentary election, will bring back the authoritarian policies of previous regimes.

Tunisia’s moderate Islamists, who still have a great deal of backing in the country, did not officially backed either candidate, but were believed to lean towards Marzouki. Al Jazeera

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