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In Tunisia, Saied says rival's imprisonment makes him uncomfortable

In Tunisia, Saied says rival's imprisonment makes him uncomfortable
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Kais Saied speaks as he attends a news conference after the announcement of the results in the first round of Tunisia's presidential election in Tunis, Tunisia September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo -
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TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian presidential candidate Kais Saied said on Thursday he was uncomfortable that his rival, media tycoon Nabil Karoui, was still in prison nearly three weeks before a presidential election run-off vote.

Former law professor Saied and Karoui won the most votes in first round of the presidential election this month, beating a number of veteran politicians in a sharp rejection of the forces that have dominated since the 2011 revolution.

Karoui, a well-known but controversial figure, was detained weeks before the election in a tax evasion and money laundering case brought three years ago by an independent transparency watchdog.

He is the owner of a major television news channel and founder of a large charity that serves Tunisia’s poor.

“The situation is uncomfortable for me and I hope that he will be free, but the final word belongs to the judiciary, Saied said in an interview with state television in his first comment on the issue.

Karoui was unable to take part in televised debates before the vote, and electoral monitors have voiced concern that voters will not have a chance to hear him campaign.

But Saied said the opportunities were not unequal between the two candidates “Unlike others. I have no media to use, no television channels … I have not campaigned,” he said

Saied, little known before the election, is a constitutional law professor who ran a modest campaign with next to no publicity or funding, espousing conservative social views while pushing for a return to the principles of the 2011 uprising.

Tunisia’s largest political party, moderate Islamist Ennahda, will back Saied. Several losing conservative candidates, including former President Moncef Marzouki, came out in support of Saied. No losing candidates have yet endorsed Karoui.

A Karoui victory in the second round expected on Oct.13 could raise difficult legal and constitutional questions given that he is detained awaiting a verdict.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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