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Newly elected leader says Tunisia has ‘turned page’

Tunisia’s new leader Beji Caid Essebsi said the country has turned the page on dictatorship after a presidential vote that European observers hailed on Tuesday as “credible and transparent”.

Essebsi, an 88-year-old veteran of previous Tunisian regimes, was on Monday declared the winner of a vote seen as a landmark for the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

The election rounded off Tunisia’s transition to democracy and has won praise from Western leaders including US President Barack Obama.

European Union observers reported on Tuesday that Tunisians had voted “for the first time in a credible and transparent presidential election”.

The head of the EU mission, Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, said however that “private television channels had clearly favoured the candidate Essebsi”.

That was in line with complaints from his opponent Moncef Marzouki during an often bitter and divisive campaign that has raised concerns that Essebsi’s victory marks the return of Tunisia’s old guard.

But Essebsi insisted Tunisia would not turn back history.

“I am for completely turning the page on the past, we must go beyond the past and look to the future,” Essebsi said in a nationally televised interview late on Monday.

Marzouki, a long-exiled 69-year-old former rights activist, has conceded defeat and called for calm after hundreds of his supporters clashed with police on Sunday and Monday.

On national television late Monday, Marzouki urged supporters to respect the result and return to their homes “in the name of national unity”.

“These are the rules of the democratic process,” he said.

Essebsi is now expected to begin forming a government, after his Nidaa Tounes party won parliamentary polls in October.

The moderately Islamist Ennahda party, which was in power after the revolution and installed Marzouki as president, came second in the general election and has not ruled out joining in a governing coalition.

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