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EU vows new support for Tunisia after tourist attack

In a meeting with the Tunisian prime minister Habib Essid on Monday, EU officials promised to bolster Tunisia's security and economy
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid at a joint news conference with European Union Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels on 20 July 2015 (AA)

The European Union promised Monday to boost political and economic support for Tunisia to ensure its transition to democracy is not derailed by last month's deadly attack on a tourist resort.

The attack on the resort of Sousse left 38 tourists dead, most of them British, and came just months after the killing of 22 people at the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis in March.

The Tunisian economy has been hit hard as several governments, including Britain, warned their nationals against visiting the country.

"There is a strong desire to support Tunisia in its efforts to make the transition to democracy and with its economy, especially tourism," EU foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini told Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid after he met with EU foreign ministers.

Mogherini said both sides were looking at help on border controls, preventing youths from becoming radicalised and heading for the many battlefields of North Africa and the Middle East.

Trade ties could be improved to help the economy, for example by increasing quotas this year for Tunisian olive oil, she said.

"We support reforms and we want to form a real partnership so that Tunisia remains a model for the future in the region," she said.

The Tunisian premier said he was thankful for EU support but noted that after the euphoria of the 2011 popular uprising, people were now demanding jobs which the authorities had so far been unable to produce.

The Sousse attack has threatened tourism which provides employment for 400,000 people plus another million in associated jobs, he said.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Sousse attack.

"The EU and Tunisia agree to step up cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. The war will be long but it will be won, thanks to our friends," Essid said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "border controls with Libya will be crucial in order to keep radical elements out," and Britain and France were ready to offer help on that front.

The Sousse gunman is believed to have been trained in Libya for the attack. 

British travel warning impact

European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, who met Premier Essid separately, said he wanted EU citizens to continue visiting Tunisia.

"If these crazy terrorists want to harm the tourist sector, it is because they do not love Tunisia," he said.

A delegation of Tunisian ministers held talks on Monday in London to urge the government to reverse its warning against travel to the country.

The officials said the travel advice could badly affect tourism and offered reassurances that security measures had been reinforced significantly since the attack.

"The meeting was very positive, we had lots of discussion about the security situation, the economic situation, the situation for tourists in Tunisia," Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik told AFP.

"Tunisia does not deserve to be sanctioned. It has done everything and takes all the different measures" necessary to ensure security, said Zohra Driss, the owner of the Imperial Marhaba hotel where the attack took place and also a member of parliament.

Maintaining the warning would cause "the biggest economic and social crisis...It would plunge Tunisia into instability and unemployment which will contribute to radical Islamism," she said.

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