Tunisia makes "good start" on democratic path: OSCE

Tunisia faces challenge in meeting people`s expectations of fast progress.

Tunis: Tunisia has made a good start in its transition to democracy but faces a major challenge in meeting people`s expectations of fast progress, the chairman of Europe`s main rights and security watchdog said on Saturday.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, the current chair of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said Tunisia`s situation reminded him of his own country when it won independence from the Soviet Union two decades ago.

He was in Tunis to discuss ways the 56-nation body could help the North African country three months after a popular revolt ended the 23-year rule of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The OSCE could assist with electoral support, developing independent media, drafting legislation, police reform, border management, and other areas, he said.

"They have a very strong belief in the...democratic future of their country," Azubalis said after meeting Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi and other officials. "The start is good."

The caretaker authorities, trying to assert their authority and gain legitimacy in the eyes of protesters who forced the transition, are attacking the vestiges of the long rule of Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia after his January 14 ouster.

They appointed a new government early last month and disbanded the state security apparatus, notorious for human rights abuses under Ben Ali.

Tunisia will hold an election on July 24 to choose a Constituent Assembly that will rewrite the Constitution and chart the country`s transition.

"Twenty years ago we saw almost the same challenges in Lithuania when we regained independence," Azubalis, who also met non-governmental organisations in the Tunisian capital, said.

"We didn`t have at that time independent media. We didn`t have...strong democratic institutions," he said.

But he warned against expecting fast changes: "The public expectations for big changes could be too high ... when you`re building democracy you should understand that it requires time."

Bureau Report