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Tunisian lawmakers protest Libya extradition

Associated Press

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) – Opposition parties staged a walk out from Tunisia’s assembly on Tuesday to protest the extradition to Libya of Moammar Gadhafi’s last prime minister.

The fierce debate in parliament, which culminated in an opposition walkout and defiant singing of the national anthem, is the latest repercussion over the extradition of Al-Baghdadi Al-Mahmoudi, which has caused deep divisions in the North African country’s government.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali implemented the decision of the courts and ordered Al-Mahmoudi’s to be sent back to Libya where the government that replaced the late Gadhafi’s wants to try him for a variety of crimes.

President Moncef Marzouki, a former human rights activist, however, had opposed the extradition on the ground that the former Libyan official risked torture or death.

Jebali’s overruling of the president’s objections threw in sharp relief the greater power of the prime minister and his moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which won the most seats in October’s elections.

Marzouki comes from one of two smaller allied secular parties.

When the speaker of parliament refused to allow a debate on the rupture between the two leaders, the opposition deputies walked out of the chamber and then sang the national anthem from the edges of the room.

“It is a symbol of protest because the values of the revolution and human rights are being violated in the country,” said Issam Chebbi of the liberal opposition Republican Party.

He said differences between the president and the prime minister are worrisome to all Tunisians and should be discussed.

“They want to defend someone who is guilty of crimes and atrocities,” countered Habib Khedr, a deputy with the Ennahda Party. “The national anthem shouldn’t be used like that in the constitutional assembly just to make a fuss.”

Al-Mahmoudi, 67, was arrested in September for illegally crossing into Tunisia as he tried to flee to Algeria, where Gadhafi’s family members had sought refuge.

Since then, Libya has clamored for the repatriation of Al-Mahmoudi to answer for crimes it says he committed during Gadhafi’s reign. Tunisian courts had approved the extradition.

But officials from Libya’s former regime have not fared well in the hands of those that overthrew them, with Gadhafi and one of his sons executed upon capture last year.

International human rights groups have condemned the extradition.

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