Tunisian PM threatens repercussions over UK travel warning
TUNIS - Tunisia's premier said he would telephone British counterpart David Cameron Friday over his government's advice that the North African nation was unsafe for holidays, threatening unspecified repercussions.
Guidance issued Thursday 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.
At the same time, the estimated 3,000 British tourists who were already in Tunisia had their holidays cut short, and some have already flown home.
Prime Minister Habib Essid told parliament late Thursday that the guidance would "have repercussions" for Britain although he did not 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 late Thursday.
"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 Friday his government would focus on trying to convince London to reverse its position.
In Paris, meanwhile, the foreign ministry said it would not urge French nationals to leave Tunisia, but was warning people to be "particularly vigilant."
- 'Adequate protection' not provided -
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 until October 31.
Tour operator Thomas Cook said Friday it had done the same and that it would be repatriating all of its holidaymakers from Tunisia over the weekend.
"We are committed to doing everything we can to support our guests in Tunisia at this time and are working to bring them back to the UK safely and as soon as possible," the company said.
A young English woman named Laura, speaking from Enfidha airport that serves Port El Kantaoui, said "we got a message this morning to tell us to leave because of the terrorist attack that may happen... We don't wanna leave but it's safer."
Speaking Friday morning, Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche took a conciliatory line, saying 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."
- Be 'particularly vigilant' -
In Paris, foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said France was not urging people to leave.
"Our 'advice to travellers' underlines the terrorist risk in Tunisia and the ongoing threat from jihadist terrorist groups," he said.
"It recommends that French citizens be particularly vigilant. Several regions of the country bordering Algeria and Libya are formally discouraged," he added.
"Aside from Britain and Belgium, our main partners are not discouraging, for the moment, general trips to Tunisia," he said, naming Germany, Spain, Italy and the United States.
A diplomatic source said that a meeting of security experts was planned in Tunis next week, including members of the G7, Spain and Belgium, to help Tunisia reinforce its capacity to protect sensitive places, including tourist sites.
In Dublin, meanwhile, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said the government is "urgently reviewing" its travel advice in light of Britain's move.
Three Irish tourists died in the June attack.
Last month's massacre followed 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 percent 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.