Tunisia PM warns of repercussions over British travel warning

Tunis, July 10

Tunisia’s prime minister said he would telephone British counterpart David Cameron today to respond to his government’s advice that the North African nation was unsafe for holidays, threatening unspecified repercussions.

Guidance issued yesterday by the Foreign Office forced British tour operators to halt all holidays to Tunisia in a massive blow to a key sector of its economy. Prime Minister Habib Essid told a late-night session of parliament that the guidance would “have repercussions” for Britain although he did say what they might be.

“We will ring the British prime minister to tell him we have done everything we can to protect all British interests and those of others countries — that’s our duty,” Essid said.

“Britain is free to take whatever decision it likes — it’s a sovereign country — but we too are a sovereign country and we have a position to take.”

Tunisia’s foreign minister said today his government would focus on trying to convince London to reverse its position.

Tunisia has brought in a raft of new security measures, including arming tourist police, since a jihadist gunman killed 38 foreign holidaymakers, 30 of them Britons, at the beach resort of Port El Kantaoui on June 26.

But the Foreign Office said it did not believe they provided “adequate protection” and advised against all but essential travel.

Within minutes of the Foreign Office advice, tour operators Thomson and First Choice said they had cancelled all flights to Tunisia for the rest of the season, until October 31.

Britain’s largest travel association, ABTA, said the 3,000 or so British tourists currently in Tunisia would be flown home as soon as possible.

Tunisia’s ambassador to London, Nabil Ammar, accused Britain of giving in to the jihadists and playing into their hands.

“By damaging the tourism, by having foreigners leaving the country, they damage the whole sector and put so many people out of work and on the streets,” he told the BBC. Speaking this morning, Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche took a conciliatory line, saying that Tunis did not blame London for its decision but would seek a reversal.

“We are going to contact them to explain that we understand that (the Foreign Office warning) was the result of a responsible reaction... but, little by little, we will try to convince them, perhaps, to go back on it.

“We do not blame them under the circumstances, but we will not leave it at that. We will remain in contact with them and with our partners in the European Union so that measures such as these are not adopted.”

Last month’s attack followed on one in March, when two jihadists gunned down 21 tourists at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis.

The two attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group, have dealt a heavy blow to the tourism industry, which contributes between seven and eight per cent of Tunisia’s GDP.

The sector accounts for 400,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, and is a key source of foreign revenue for a country where the local currency, the dinar, is non-convertible.

The economic impact of the beach bloodbath, on top of the upheaval following the overthrow four years ago of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is likely to exceed half a billion dollars in 2015, according to Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik.