Jailed presidential hopeful walks free

TUNIS: Tunisia’s jailed presidential candidate Nabil Karoui received a hero’s welcome as he walked free from jail Wednesday night, just days ahead of a run-off vote that he will contest against a rival political newcomer.

An AFP journalist outside Mornaguia prison near Tunis saw throngs of the media mogul’s supporters waving Tunisia’s red-and-white flag and Karoui campaign banners as they jubilantly cheered for him.

An elated Karoui then left the scene in a black Mercedes, and drove off without speaking to the press.

The release, which came hours ahead of final results from parliamentary polls, is the latest twist in a shock election dominated by political outsiders in the country whose 2011 revolution sparked the Arab Spring regional uprisings.

The Court of Cassation’s decision to release Karoui, a business tycoon who has been detained since August over a money laundering probe, also comes ahead of Sunday’s final presidential vote.

Tunisia’s presidential candidate Nabil Karoui is greeted by his supporters upon his arrival at his party’s office in the capital Tunis on Wednesday, after being released from jail. Photo: AFP

The results from last week’s parliamentary poll are expected to reap a legislature riven by divisions, with Islamist-inspired Ennahda likely to win the largest number of seats, but still falling far short of a majority.

Karoui’s lawyer Kamel Ben Messoud earlier said the court had “annulled the detention order” against his client.

Another of his lawyers, Nazih Souei, said Karoui remains under investigation, “but he is free”.

Karoui is running against conservative law professor Kais Saied on Sunday in the second round of voting.

Saied had announced last weekend he was quitting campaigning in order to avoid an unfair advantage over Karoui.

The side lining of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring political class in the September 15 presidential first round was rooted in frustration over a stagnant economy, high unemployment, failing public services and rising prices. – AFP