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Tunisia: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali: State of the Nation Address: (7/11/2007)

7th November 2007

By: Site Administrator
Main Preditor Administrator

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Date: 7/11/2007
Source: Tunisia Government
Title:

Fellow citizens,

With great pride, our people celebrates today the 20th anniversary of the historic moment of salvation and the start of the process of change, reform and construction at the dawn of November 7,1987; twenty years during which our country has reached an advanced stage of progress and prosperity, and accomplished major gains and achievements that constitute for us a source of pride in the world.

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Through this celebration, we reaffirm our constant faithfulness to the memory of the martyrs of liberation and the generations of reformers, pioneers, freedom-fighters and activists, the builders of Independence and the founders of the modern state, in the forefront of whom the late Leader Habib Bourguiba.

We take this opportunity to salute all Tunisians, men and women, from all generations and social categories, and in all regions, and to commend their commitment to the message of the Change, to our national choices, and to the authentic civilisational project we are establishing step by step, driven by our absolute allegiance to Tunisia alone, and our devotion to serving it and raising high its banner.

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I am pleased, on this glorious occasion, to award the "November 7th Prize for Creativity" to the great Arab Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish whom we hold in high regard and commend his creativity, militancy and commitment to the cause of his people and to the principles of justice and freedom in the world.

His works have always been a sincere expression of the will and struggle of the brotherly Palestinian people.

While congratulating him on this distinction, I would like to convey, through him, my greetings to all Palestinian artists, paying tribute to their steadfastness and their inexhaustible contributions, despite their difficult conditions.

I also wish to congratulate all those who will receive today the Order of November 7th, while commending the efforts of anyone who has contributed to consolidating the foundations of the civilisational project we are building together with great pride.

The November 7th Declaration we addressed to our people on that historic day will remain our reference and our guiding light in all we do for Tunisia, for its prestige and glory, for every Tunisian citizen, in any region inside the country or abroad.

We are sincerely endeavouring to meet their aspiration for a life of prosperity, invulnerability and well-being in all fields. Our determination stems from our love for Tunisia and our devotion to consolidating its gains, defending its interests, and elevating its position in the world.

Two decades of reform and modernisation, during which we have embraced an unwavering belief in the historic mission we are assuming, and in our people's confidence in our choices and commitment to our orientations.

Before the advent of the Change, Tunisia was a Third World country, with all the underdevelopment criteria related to this category of countries : an acute political crisis, deep social divisions, lack of stability and serenity, deteriorating economic conditions, and serious dangers fed by internal and external covetous desires.

The situation was deplorable in all fields, and threatened to explode at any moment. Today, however, Tunisia is an emerging country, advancing, with confidence and assurance, toward the future, endeavouring to join the ranks of the most developed and prosperous countries.

Fellow citizens,

The process of comprehensive development we have adopted over the past couple of decades has established the complementarity between the economic and social dimensions as a firm principle and a constant value, and has optimised interaction with the political reforms and the cultural and civilisational modernisation taking place in Tunisia since 1987. This has made it possible to achieve a pace of growth that has never regressed, notwithstanding climatic difficulties, successive world crises, and the excessive rise of the prices of oil, raw materials and cereals on world markets.

The average GDP growth rate was 4.3% during the first decade. It has increased to 5% during the second decade, and is expected to reach 6.3% this year.

We are endeavouring to maintain this level of growth all along the period of the current Development Plan, in order to serve our priorities and objectives in all fields, particularly as regards employment.

The reforms we have adopted have opened the national economy on its international environment. Since the Change, exports have increased by more than 12% annually.

The budget deficit has been brought down and maintained at an average of 2.9% during the past decade.

Besides, the foreign debt rate in relation to the national revenue has decreased from 56.2% to 45.6% currently, and is expected to go down to 42.8% at the end of 2008.

Similarly, the foreign debt service rate in relation to current incomings has decreased from 26.8% in 1987 to 11.5% only at the end of the current year. Since the Change, we have endeavoured to improve the climate of investment and business creation, and to develop the infrastructure in all the country's regions.

This has opened promising sectors for initiative and investment, and increased, by nearly ten points, the share of the private sector in the global volume of investments. The Tunisian economy's structure has thus known a quantum leap, which has allowed it to considerably improve its indicators, and brought it closer to the indicators of developed economies. The service sector accounts currently for 57.2% of the GDP, an indicator perfectly illustrating this quantum leap, especially that the contribution of the service sector alone to the process of growth has increased this year to 51.8%.

In our Program for Tomorrow's Tunisia, we have been keen on reinforcing this qualitative change and on accelerating its pace, in order to offer the national economy the attributes of modernity characterising the economies of advanced countries.

Although we have made large strides in the implementation of this Program with a high pace exceeding 88.8% so far, regarding both the objectives and measures that have fully been implemented, and those whose implementation knows a high pace of progress, we will continue consolidating its programs and projects through the adoption of new initiatives.

On top of the investment grants allocated to small- and medium- sized businesses for the purposes of establishment, expansion and upgrading, we announce our decision to apply to these grants the same tax advantages offered to the businesses themselves.

To further promote investment in small businesses and reduce the costs of operation and activity, we announce our decision to exempt these businesses from the tax on vocational training and contribution to the fund for the promotion of housing for wage-earners (FOPROLOS).

This exemption shall apply during the first three years starting from the date of the business's effective operation. This in addition to the financial incentives currently offered for small business creation, in the form of an investment grant and a financial allocation, reimbursable over many years, to finish off the financing structure.

To further enhance private initiative, accelerate the pace of business creation, and promote investment and employment in regional development areas, we announce our decision to increase, from 4 to 5 million dinars, the investment ceilings entitled to benefit from the interventions of the industrial decentralisation promotion fund regarding new promoters and small- and medium- sized businesses, and also to increase the investment grant ceilings so that they reach one million dinars in priority regional development areas.

In the same context, we give instructions for increasing the rate of contribution of the industrial decentralisation promotion fund to the capital of small and medium-sized businesses established in priority regional development areas, from 30 to 40% of the initial capital.

The public service being a crucial factor for enhancing development, it is necessary to further improve its performance at the national, regional and local levels.

Given the importance of the human element in achieving this objective, we give instructions for the organisation of a national consultation on the modernisation of the public service and the consolidation of its capacity to keep up with current changes.

Fellow citizens,

We adopted, last year, an executive programme for external financial liberalisation, whose implementation has had a positive impact on transactions with foreign countries, for individuals as well as businesses.

As we are moving ahead, gradually and with firm steps, toward achieving the full convertibility of the dinar, we announce our decision to authorise banks to manage up to 20% of their hard currency assets on world markets, while adopting prudent methods of management in this regard.

We also give instructions for taking an additional set of measures authorising banks to price coverage mechanisms for change risks, to set the interest rate, and to extend their periods.

As regards the financing of the 11th Development Plan, we are keen on reinforcing national savings and our own resources. This requires increasing the savings rate, so that it goes up from 20.5% currently to 23.5% at the end of the Plan.

To further enhance the market mechanisms in this field, ensure the coherence of interest prices, and increase competition among banks in terms of savings mobilisation, we give instructions for liberalising the interest rate applied to savings, while setting a minimum rate compatible with the monetary market rate, with two points less (TMM-2) in order to protect small savers.

As we consider life insurance a long-term saving that should be promoted, given its role in mobilising financial resources and in supporting national retirement funds, we give instructions for amending the related fiscal framework, by increasing, from 2,000 to 3,000 dinars per year, the ceiling of deduction for life insurance allowances, as well as for introducing further flexibility into this type of insurance, by allowing subscribers to re-purchase their contracts after five years, provided that they regularise their fiscal situation, without having to pay late payment penalties.

Fellow citizens,

Employment is our most important development and social challenge.We have multiplied initiatives, programs and mechanisms to accelerate the pace of job creation and curb unemployment. We have managed, thanks to the policies and programmes we have adopted, to improve the rate of coverage of additional job demands, which has gone up to more than 92% during the 10th Plan, against 68% in the early period of the Change.

Given the close correlation between investment, initiative and employment, we give instructions to allow private individuals to convert their savings accounts into investment savings accounts, without requiring them to reimburse the advantages they have obtained for the initial account. We also give instructions for establishing a system of savings for investment and employment, much like the system of savings for housing, to provide financial resources, on the one hand, and ensure self-funding for new promoters, on the other.

The job market being open to new demands which will face a sustained increase averaging at 87,000 demands annually till the end of 2014, in addition to the deep change characterising the structure of these demands given the rise of the number of university graduates, we give instructions today for organising, in 2008, a large national consultation on employment and its prospects, taking into consideration the potential changes Tunisian economy will undergo, and the developments that will affect the system of occupations and techniques.

Aware of the huge changes shaking the world economy, as a result of climate change and the excessive rise in the prices of oil and basic materials, we will lay particular focus, during the coming stage, on rationalising energy consumption and improving its efficiency, as well as on using renewable energies, encouraging the consumption of the least costly energies, and giving support to certain concerned sectors, particularly that of collective transport.

In this context, we exhort all Tunisians, in all fields of everyday life, at home, in the workplace and particularly in economic enterprises, or when using means of transport, to adopt a conscious behaviour and acquire new traditions for saving electric energy and fuel, and to use, whenever possible, alternatives based on the consumption of renewable energies, and the technologies that limit costs, reduce the losses incurred by the national community, and alleviate the excessive pressure of subsidies on the State budget.

It should be clear for everybody that all indicators today show that oil prices will remain on the rise, and that the world reserves of this material will run out after a not-so-long period of time.

Hence the need to be deeply aware of that and optimally prepared to it. During the coming stage, the State will exert an additional effort to further concentrate on the consumption of renewable energies, and to promote technological research and its economic applications.

Given the rise of world prices of cereals, we have lately taken measures aimed at consolidating our national capacities in the sector of large-scale farming, improving the performance of Tunisian agriculture, and upgrading it so that it can ensure our food self-sufficiency.

We rely on the Tunisian citizen's awareness and sense of responsibility to avoid all forms of wasting and to rationalise his/her consumption, given the continuous rise of the prices of farming materials.

To consolidate the measures we have taken to promote the production of cereals and alleviate the debts of the large-scale farming sector, we announce our decision to deduct 50% of contractual interests and to remove all late payment interests for the debts of farmers in this sector, and to schedule the initial debt and the remainder of interests over a maximum period of 15 years, without advance payment, while allowing farmers having scheduled their debts to obtain new loans.

Consolidating our gains in the field of agriculture being linked to the related support services, including those offered by the insurance sector to ensure the durability and profitability of agricultural investments and preserve the farmer's properties, and after taking cognizance of the results of the national consultation on the agricultural insurance system which, a few months ago, we gave instructions to organise, we announce our decision to generalise exemption from the single tax on insurance, so that it encompasses all insurance companies involved in agricultural risks coverage.

We also give instructions to decrease, by 40%, the tariffs applied to the risks related to hailfall and agricultural fire for large-scale farming and tree-cultivation in the areas most exposed to these risks, and by 30% the tariffs applied to cattle death risks.

To reduce the effects of scattering and splitting of farms, we give instructions for applying reductions reaching up to 20% for farmers who opt for collective insurance contracts, or conclude annually renewable individual insurance contracts. Given the role played by the Tunisian fund for agricultural cooperative insurance in this field, we give instructions for changing the legal status of this Fund, in such a way as to allow it to improve its services and reinforce its distribution network with lesser costs and a quality meeting the farmers' aspirations.

Fellow citizens,

Since 1987, the average per capita income has constantly increased by 7.3% annually. Moreover, the poverty rate has gone down to 3.8%, thanks to our solidarity-based policies and the provision of support and aid programmes for the neediest social categories.

This has allowed our country to serve as an example and a model, at international level, in terms of social development and poverty eradication. Providing the attributes of dignity to Tunisian citizens is a fundamental objective of our policies.

Moreover, improving quality of life and promoting sustainable development are a constant line in our policy. We have managed to bring under control the financial and economic balances as well as the inflation rate, which has helped us improve the citizens' purchasing power, as the prices of basic consumption products in our country are considered as the lowest in comparison to similar countries where the average per capita income and the level of wages are below those in Tunisia.

Despite the difficulties we faced in certain periods, we have never stopped social dialogue and regular negotiations concerning wages and working conditions in all sectors.

This has made it possible to ensure continuous, uninterrupted pay increases, and a constant improvement in the conditions of work and production as well as in the processes of occupational promotion for all categories of intellectual and manual workers.

On this occasion, we pay tribute to our national organisations, particularly the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA), and the Tunisian Union for Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP). We commend their role in anchoring this political and social choice and in promoting social peace, and appreciate the deep sense of awareness of the national interest shown by their leaders and cadres, and their determination to actively contribute to Tunisia's advancement toward further progress and prosperity.

Life quality indicators for Tunisians in urban and rural areas have reached today remarkable levels, a fact testified to by various specialised international institutions and bodies.

Life expectancy at birth has increased to reach currently 74 years, against 67 years in 1984, and is expected to reach nearly 80 years in 2020. As part of the care it offers to vulnerable social categories, the State has established a protection network which, till this year, has made it possible to increase more than fivefold the volume of social welfare spendings, which accounts for 19% of the GDP. This means that each Tunisian household has currently an indirect additional average monthly income amounting to 277 dinars.

Fellow citizens,

We have already asserted that Tunisian women are a reflection of modernity, a guarantee for our people's authenticity, and one of the pillars of the Republic. Indeed, without women's citizenship, the very notion of citizenship will be incomplete.

Partnership between women and men is today a tangible reality anchored in the legal text as well as in practice, within the family, in society, in economic and cultural circles, and in political life.

This is confirmed by the quantitative and qualitative indicators that place Tunisia in the forefront of the world countries in this field.

Women's presence in economic life represents nearly one-third of the working population, not including women working in non-structured sectors. We consider Tunisian women today a model to follow in their regional and international environment, thanks to the rights they enjoy and the gains they have acquired, which we are keen on preserving and consolidating particularly in public life.

We, therefore, call on political parties to work for increasing the rate of women's presence on the lists of candidates they will field in the legislative and municipal elections; thus materialising our national choice to reinforce women's presence within constitutional institutions.

In our capacity as Chairman of the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), we announce our decision that the ratio of women on the RCD lists of candidates for the legislative and municipal elections will be at least 30%.

We believe this affirmative action in favour of women falls in line with our society's evolution, and entrusts Tunisian women with a big responsibility to preserve and promote their gains.

We have accorded youth a fundamental position in our choices and policies, and offered them wide opportunities to contribute to public life and participate in building the future.

We have firmly adopted the policy of listening to our youth and establishing dialogue with them, in order to be aware of their concerns and areas of interests, and take into consideration their views and visions in conceiving plans, projects and programs.

Faced with the transformations taking place in our society and in the world as a whole, as a result of the economic and technological evolution, and the changes occurring in the modes of labour and production, and in the modes of life and cultural activity, we give instructions for organising, in 2008, a comprehensive dialogue with youth, involving all categories of Tunisian youth, at home and abroad.

This dialogue shall cover the largest range of fields, and lead to the formulation of a Youth Pact on the major constants and choices our youth is endeavouring to materialise. Chief among these constants is attachment to Tunisia and allegiance to it alone, commitment to the attributes of our national identity, and cherishing the sense of belonging to this beloved country, defending it, and being fully aware of the current and future challenges.

On the other hand, we call on all those who assume a role in the field of education, whether at the level of the family or in the various institutions of society, particularly the members of the education community, and officials in charge of culture and leisure centres and sports clubs, to optimise the accomplishment of the tasks with which they are entrusted, and instil in our sons and daughters the sense and ethics of civilised behaviour, while giving free rein to their creative energies and capacities in all fields.

We are constantly working, as part of our major choices and national priorities, to intensify investment in intelligence and knowledge as well as in culture, education and scientific research, as these constitute the challenges of the future, especially the future of our youth.

Culture is indeed an element of support to the Change and a fundamental pillar for promoting the process of comprehensive development, for consolidating the attributes of identity, and for achieving modernity. We have accomplished for culture and for the people involved in it and in all fields of cultural creativity numerous gains and achievements that have consolidated our country's image and position in its civilisational environment.

In this context, we announce our decision for the establishment of a Higher Council for Culture, which will include prominent figures from various fields of culture, arts and creativity, to contribute to crystallising ideas and visions to help promote these sectors and consolidate our country's image abroad.

The fields of culture and creativity can flourish only within a climate of freedom.

In the legal text as well as in practice, we have been keen on safeguarding freedom of opinion and expression, and on protecting intellectual property and copyrights.

In line with this firm choice we have adopted since the Change, we have decided to abolish administrative control over books, publications and artistic works at the time of legal submission, and to make the control operation and the issuing of decisions to forbid publication the exclusive prerogative of the judiciary, while maintaining the submission operation in order to preserve the national memory and continuously enrich our national library with all the publications produced in our country.

We give instructions today to devote a considerable effort, starting from the end of the current year, for promoting cultural spaces in cities, villages and popular neighbourhoods, and for enhancing the performance of culture centres, by giving priority to their rehabilitation and maintenance as well as to the development of their programmes, the consolidation of their equipments, and the promotion of their human resources.

In this context, we announce our decision to increase, by 10% annually, the funds allocated for maintenance, improvement and equipment, and to plan new recruitments for 500 cadres specialised in management and cultural activities, technicians and workers.

On the other hand, we give instructions for establishing partnership agreement between culture centres on the one hand, and educational and academic institutions, associations, and local structures, on the other hand, and for promoting the role of intellectuals and artists, in all regions of the country, in enhancing their activities and providing guidance to their members.

For a society without cultural dynamism is indeed a lifeless society.

Fellow citizens,

Building a democratic and pluralist society rests on freedom of opinion, on the respect of the right to difference and expression, and on a high political culture that respects the supremacy of the law and the principles of the Republic.

Such is, in fact, our project which we have been implementing, step by step, since the dawn of the Change.

I have already asserted that pluralism is an irreversible choice, and that political parties, both in power and in the Opposition, are the elements of the democratic equation and fair competition.

They should, in fact, show a high degree of efficiency allowing them to assume their roles as best as possible.

Last year, we called on political parties, national organisations and intellectual tendencies, to deeply reflect upon our country's present and future, and to submit to us their views and suggestions, so that we can take them into consideration on the occasion of our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Change.

While thanking them for their contributions, and commending the ideas and suggestions they have put forth, to which we have accorded all due attention, we reaffirm to everybody our steadfast determination to move ahead in promoting the system of freedoms, human rights and democracy, and to further consolidate its mechanisms and practices, proceeding from our conviction that Tunisia is for everybody, and that our attachment to Tunisia dictates allegiance to it and sacrifice for its sake, and gives each Tunisian citizen the right to participate in building its future.

Given the role of political parties in providing guidance to citizens and organising their participation in public life, we announce our decision to increase twofold the fixed grant allocated to finance political parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies, in order to help them promote their role and intensify their activities. We also announce our decision to increase the grant allocated to their press, in order to consolidate their capacity to make heard their voice and make known their programmes and positions.

On the other hand, we give instructions to facilitate the activity of these political parties in public spaces, as far as possible and in accordance with the regulations in force.

Keen on enriching the pluralism of the national media landscape, and further promoting the diversity of views and positions, we reiterate our call for increasing forums of dialogue on our TV channels, and for reinforcing the Opposition's presence in TV programmes addressing national issues and world developments.

As part of the process of promoting information institutions, we announce our decision to make of the Higher Communication Council an institution with its own entity and financial autonomy. We will also consolidate the prerogatives of this Council, by making it responsible for following up the performance of media institutions, particularly the audio-visual media, assessing their programmes and contents, and submitting suggestions to promote them in a way that meets our national choices and orientations, and conforms to the ethics of the journalistic profession and media work.

Fellow citizens,

We are endeavouring to expand the scope of participation in public life by all possible means, particularly through elections, one of the most important indicators of political maturity in democratic systems.

Given the high status accorded youth in our country and in our choices and programmes, we announce today our decision to lower, from 20 to 18, the minimum voting age; thus allowing Tunisia's youth to participate, on the largest scale possible, in general elections.

To reduce the number of polling stations, we announce our decision to amend the Electoral Code in such a way as to allow municipalities where the number of voters amounts to 7,000 or more, to increase, from 450 to 600, the number of registered voters in each of their polling stations.

To increase transparency and integrity in electoral operations, we plan to reinforce the composition of the National Election Monitoring Observatory, by involving law specialists and national figures known for their independence and competence.

Our determination is also strong to reinforce pluralism in our constitutional institutions. In this regard, we announce our decision to revise the Electoral Code in such a way as to increase up to 25% the number of seats devoted to the national level in the election of the members of the Chamber of Deputies.

To further enhance the role of political parties in this Chamber, we urge a review of the provisions of this Chamber's internal regulations concerning parliamentary groups, in order to facilitate their creation, by decreasing, from 10% to 5% only, the number of seats required to form a parliamentary group. We are also determined to reinforce the presence of the different political tendencies within the list of national figures and competences belonging to the Chamber of Advisors, as well as within the list of national figures and competences belonging to the Economic and Social Council.

Having adopted, since the November 7th Change, the system of national consultation as one of the foundations of democratic rule, and offered Opposition parties the opportunity to join a number of higher consultative councils, we announce our decision to review the texts organising higher consultative councils, in such a way as to allow political parties represented in the Chamber of Deputies to join all these councils, and thus reinforce the traditions of consultation and exchanges of views and ideas concerning the evolution and promotion of all sectors.

To further promote democracy and pluralism, we announce our decision to amend the Electoral Code toward decreasing the ceiling set for the number of seats for each list, in such a way as to make sure no list obtains more than 75% of the seats in municipal councils, regardless of the number of votes it wins.

Fellow citizens,

We have established in the Constitution the grounds for the protection of human rights in their universality, comprehensiveness and correlation. We have also emphasised the respect of the integrity and dignity of individuals.

In this regard, custody is obligatorily subject to judicial control, and no preventive detention takes place unless with judicial authorisation.

To anchor these principles and values, and in line with the reforms we have established since the early days of the Change, we give instructions today for preparing a bill that consolidates the judicial guarantees offered during the period of custody, by establishing the obligation for the judicial party to justify the decision to extend the period of custody; thus avoiding any automatic extension of this period.

The bill shall also establish the obligation for the investigating magistrate to justify the decision to preventively detain a suspect; thus confirming the exceptional character of preventive custody.

The penal system has also been developed to ensure the correlation between punishment and rehabilitation, through establishing the punishment of "work for general interest", and creating the position of "penalty enforcement judge". Reality shows that the prison punishment does not necessarily serve its deterrent function for infractions and small offences.

We, therefore, give instructions today to further promote this system by enlarging the scope of alternative non-prison punishments, and establishing the sentence of reparation, under which it will be possible for the court, in small infractions and offences requiring a short- term prison penalty, to require the sentenced party to compensate the victim of the offence or to remove the damage caused by the offence, within a period of time set by the court.

The prison sentence shall apply in case the compensation is not made during the set period.

On the other hand, we have noticed, through our follow-up of the situations of certain citizens, that many of them, particularly among young people, face difficulties in obtaining jobs, given the period required for the restitution of rights.

We, therefore, give instructions for preparing a bill reviewing the conditions for the restitution of rights, by decreasing the period required for obtaining a decision for the restitution of rights, or required for the restitution of rights by law.

We also give instructions for establishing a developed computer system connecting courts, tax offices and the judicial register department, which will allow to update the criminal record certificate as soon as possible, and obtain the restitution of rights as soon as the legal conditions are met.

This will offer those who had committed offences the possibility to obtain a job in easy conditions, and will, therefore, protect them against recidivism.

We have always been keen on protecting the rights of children and providing adequate conditions to offer them a sound and balanced education.

We have also established the necessary mechanisms to protect them from delinquency.

To further protect the rights of infants from the negative effects to which they might be exposed as a result of their residence with their imprisoned mothers, we give instructions today to prepare a bill forbidding the residence of children with their imprisoned mothers, and providing for the establishment of special spaces for the protection and accommodation of imprisoned mothers all along the period of pregnancy and breast-feeding.

When this period ends, they shall continue serving their sentence in ordinary penitentiary institutions reserved for women.

Fellow citizens,

Since the Change, we have traced a foreign policy that has enabled our country to keep up with world developments, to protect our interests, and to consolidate Tunisia's presence and image in the world.

Respecting national sovereignty and the principles of international legality is the constant tenet underlying this policy.

Tunisia has, in fact, spared no effort to help promote peace and security in the world and disseminate the value of moderation, dialogue and solidarity in its relations with all other countries.

The international community has adopted many Tunisian initiatives. It adopted, in 2002, our proposal for establishing a world solidarity fund for poverty eradication, and, in 2003, our proposal for making sports a tool to disseminate education, health, development and peace in the world.

It also sustained the organisation of the World Summit on the Information Society hosted by Tunisia in 2005.

Our country has played an active role in promoting security, stability and co-operation in its regional, Arab, African and Mediterranean environment, by hosting a number of successful conferences and summits, such as the African Summit in 1994, the 5+5 Summit in 2003, and the Arab Summit in 2004, which constituted an important landmark in the process of development and modernisation in the Arab world.

We are keen on pursuing the assumption of our responsibilities in the face of the current world challenges, including ecological imbalance, especially as our country is preparing this month to host the "International Solidarity Conference on Climate Change Strategies for African and Mediterranean Countries".

On the other hand, we are sparing no effort to help address complex world issues, such as terrorism.

We were among the first to have warned against this phenomenon, and called for holding an international conference, under the United Nations auspices, to address the causes and factors feeding terrorism, and to establish an international code of action for the fight against terrorism, to which all parties shall be committed.

Proceeding from our constant position vis-à-vis the Palestinian Cause, our prime Cause, we have incessantly supported it in all regional and international meetings. We have contributed to all efforts aimed at enabling the brotherly Palestinian people to recover its legitimate rights and establish its independent state, and at achieving just, comprehensive and durable peace in the Middle East region.

We hope the forthcoming international peace conference will address all the fundamental issues, and will achieve tangible results paving the way for a settlement that will promote security and stability for all peoples of the region. Faced with the huge challenges confronting our Arab region, we reiterate our call for joining regional and international efforts in order to put an end to the deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions in Iraq, and to help the brotherly Iraqi people achieve national consensus and devote its efforts for the reconstruction of its country, within a context of unity and stability.

We also hope the brotherly Lebanese people will overcome the difficult conditions it is currently experiencing, which will allow it to avoid internal strife and preserve its national unity.

Convinced that the Arab Maghreb Union is an irrevocable strategic choice, we have endeavoured, since the November 7th Change, jointly with our brothers the Leaders of Maghreb countries, to build this Union and establish its institutions; thus meeting the aspirations of the Maghreb peoples.

Today, we call for intensifying efforts and endeavours in order to overcome the circumstantial difficulties that have so far impeded the advancement of the Maghreb process, to enhance the role of Maghreb institutions, and to achieve higher levels of cooperation and integration. Tunisia has also endeavoured, since the November 7th Change, to strengthen the bonds of friendship and co-operation with sisterly Arab countries, and to promote joint Arab action and modernise its structures and institutions.

Given the strategic importance we attach to Tunisia's relations with Europe, we have endeavoured to promote the bonds of co-operation with this space, and to establish a constructive partnership with the European Union, within a context of mutual respect.

We are, in fact, preparing to join, at the beginning of 2008, the free-trade zone, as the first Mediterranean country to reach this advanced level of partnership with the European Union.

We are also keen on reinforcing the various frameworks of Euro-Mediterranean co-operation.

In this context, we reiterate our support to the initiative of French President Nicolas Sarkozy calling for the establishment of a Mediterranean Union, and our readiness to contribute to formulating its contents and setting its objectives.

At the African level, we have always insisted on developing the platform of co-operation with all African countries, as well as on efficiently contributing to finishing off the establishment of the institutions of the African Union, and enhancing its role in promoting security, stability and development in our Continent.

On the other hand, we have been keen on promoting our excellent relations with our sisterly countries in all parts of the world, particularly the countries of the American and Asian continents.

Fellow citizens,

We cherish great ambitions for Tunisia, which we draw from our deep-rooted history and the interaction of various civilisations on this glorious land which begot the Leader Hannibal, Saint Augustine, Al-Imam Sohnoun, the scholar Ibn Khaldoun, the reformer Kheireddine, and the Leader Habib Bourguiba; this very land from which the Islamic faith was spread, till it covered the Great Arab Maghreb, the sub-Saharan countries, Andalusia and the far reaches of Europe. Our ambition for Tunisia has no limits. It draws its essence from the movement of reform that emerged in the 19th century and called for the establishment of a system governed by the rule of law, giving rise, in 1857, to the Fundamental Pact; the latter being the first charter of human rights and the first written constitution in the Arab world.

We cherish great ambitions for Tunisia, which we draw from the glories of the National Movement whose roots extended to the movement of Tunisian youth, which begot valorous men and leaders who wrote immortal pages in the glorious history of our country.

We cherish great ambitions for Tunisia, which we draw from the November 7th Declaration, as well as from the eternal values instilled in our people, the values of tolerance, solidarity, mutual support and fraternity.

There is indeed no room for exclusion and marginalisation.

In our country, nobody should lag behind the process of growth and progress, and no region, be it rural or urban, in the north or in the south, should remain outside the dynamic of development.

The Republic of Tunisia is, in fact, a cohesive geographic entity, uniting all Tunisian men and women in a strong fabric of harmony, complementarity, consensus and solidarity, rarely matched in the East and in the West.

All Tunisians, men and women, are entitled to participate in promoting their country's present and building its future, to enjoy its wealth, and to reap the fruits of its growth and prosperity.

We cherish great ambitions for Tunisia, based on consensus as the element of support for political stability, and on dialogue as the foundation of social peace, within a context of rule of law, respect for human rights principles, and consecration of the values of freedom, equality and justice.

The law will remain the decisive reference. There is, therefore, no room for injustices and transgressions, nor for abuse of power.

There is no room for the single opinion, the single thought, and the single colour.

There is no room for resigning from participation; for Tunisia needs the efforts of all its sons and daughters. Such is the project of the Change; the project we have established for today's Tunisia and for tomorrow's Tunisia.

Together, we have endeavoured to implement this project over the past couple of decades. We want the 20th anniversary of the Change to give a fresh impetus to this project, drawing its force from the November 7th Declaration, and grounded upon the unprecedented achievements and reforms accomplished in Tunisia.

Long live Tunisia, glorious and invulnerable forever !"

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