The Malta Independent 10 July 2015, Friday

Empty hotels: Tunisia defends efforts to protect foreign tourists after deadly attack

Friday, 10 July 2015, 14:47 Last update: about 3 hours ago

Tunisia's prime minister insisted Friday that his country has done "everything in our power" to protect foreign tourists, as the British government urged travelers to flee because of the threat of more attacks.

Britain on Thursday called for all U.K. tourists to leave Tunisia because an extremist attack is "highly likely," saying the North African country hasn't done enough to enhance security. There were 30 British tourists among the 38 victims killed by an Islamic extremist at a Tunisian beach resort last month.

The decision is a new wound for Tunisia's struggling tourism industry and for Tunisia's reputation as it tries to solidify its new democracy in a volatile region. An attack on the National Bardo Museum in Tunis in March left 22 dead, mostly foreign tourists.

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said Friday that his government would help evacuate Britions.

"We did everything in our power to protect (British) citizens and their interests, as well as those of all other countries," Essid told lawmakers during a security debate.

Hundreds of thousands of Britons visit Tunisia each year. Many left after the Sousse attack, but some 3,000 are still in Tunisia.

Travel company Thomas Cook, which has about 2,000 British customers in Tunisia, said it would add an extra flight Friday to bring Britons home.

Hotels in the resort of Hammamet were largely empty of foreign tourists Friday. At one, the swimming pool glistened in the Mediterranean sun, unperturbed by swimmers.

British Embassy officials were helping Friday with departures of British tourists at the Enfidha airport, but would not talk about the ramifications of the British government move.

The head of the Islamist party Ennahda's group in parliament, Noureddine Bhiri, called the British decision "manifestly damaging to Tunisia and its democratic process."

A French diplomat said French, British and German governments will work with Tunisia, notably in improving airport security and protecting tourist sites and foreign companies. The diplomat, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said Western experts would meet next week in Tunis to discuss security measures.

The Tunisian Parliament is debating counter-terrorism legislation that rights groups say would threaten hard-won freedoms. The government says limits on some freedoms are necessary to ensure security.

The prime minister said his government has carried out 7,000 security operations since the museum killing, arresting 1,000 people and stopping 15,000 young people from traveling to fight jihad abroad.

Essid said the government is working to remedy "shortcomings" in security efforts. "Our country is going through a delicate situation, and is in danger," he said.

France's Foreign Ministry on Friday urged its citizens in Tunisia to be "particularly vigilant" but stopped short of urging departures. Germany, two of whose citizens died in the Sousse shooting, made no immediate change to its travel advice. Ireland urged its citizens to leave if their presence in Tunisia was not essential.

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