Tunisia's President Essebsi suffers 'severe health crisis'

Officials say Beji Caid Essebsi, 92, is in hospital in critical condition, but alive, dispelling rumours of his death.

    Essebsi is Tunisia's first freely-elected president since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [File: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]
    Essebsi is Tunisia's first freely-elected president since the 2011 revolution that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [File: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

    Tunisia's 92-year-old president has been taken to a military hospital in a critical condition, after suffering "a serious health crisis", the presidency said.

    Beji Caid Essebsi's office announced the hospitalisation on Thursday, later saying the president was "undergoing the necessary check-ups" and in stable condition despite rumours of his death. 

    Presidential Adviser Firas Guefrech also dispelled the claims of the president's demise and called on Tunisians to pray for Essebsi.

    "Please don't follow rumours. The president's condition is stable. Pray for his recovery," Guefrech said in a tweet.

    An unnamed official told the Reuters news agency that the president, who has been in power since 2014, was in a very critical condition but was alive.

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    Second hospitalisation

    No more details were immediately available.

    Essebsi had been briefly hospitalised last week as well for what the presidency described as non-serious treatment.

    Tunisia's first freely-elected president since the 2011 revolution, Essebsi has been a prominent figure in Tunisia since the overthrow of longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali which set the North African country on a path to democracy, avoiding the more violent upheavals seen in the rest of the region.

    He led the immediate transition as prime minister in 2011 and was elected president three years later.

    Essebsi
    Essebsi said in June he would not run for a second term in presidential elections this year [File: Ali Louati/AP]

    Essebsi was a senior figure before 2011, having served as foreign minister under state founder Habib Bourguiba and as parliamentary speaker under Ben Ali.

    He said in June he would not run for a second term in the presidential elections this year, despite his party's calls for him to stand. The party has not identified another candidate yet.

    Under a new constitution guaranteeing democratic freedoms, Essebsi has limited powers compared with Ben Ali. His is mainly responsible for foreign and defence policies.

    The day-to-day business of government and economic policy is run by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, in office since 2016.

    Chahed is also the main contact person for the International Monetary Fund and other donors which have kept Tunisia afloat amid its economic crisis.

    SOURCE: News agencies