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Hundreds of Tunisians take to the streets against Saudi crown prince

Anger at Mohammed bin Salman's visit palpable in Tunis, as protesters held banners decrying Jamal Khashoggi's murder and Yemen war
Tunisians shout slogans and hold up signs as they protest against the visit of the Saudi crown prince to the country, on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital Tunis (AFP)

Hundreds of Tunisian protesters marched through the capital Tunis in opposition to a visit on Tuesday by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, urging justice over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.

The crown prince is on a tour of the region, one that won't include Morocco, after its king reportedly snubbed the Saudi leader.

Bin Salman has faced a global backlash since Khashoggi's murder, which the CIA reportedly concluded the crown prince was responsible for.

We refuse to turn Tunisia into a destination to whitewash war crimes

- Sakina Abdel Samad, secretary-general of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists

In Tunis, demonstrators shouted "Go away assassin!" and held placards with slogans including "The people want bin Salman to be judged"; "No to the killer of Yemeni children" and "You're not welcome".

It was the second protest in as many days against the de facto Saudi ruler, who flew into Tunis from Egypt on Tuesday for talks with President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Essebsi welcomed the crown prince on arrival at Tunis airport, the presidency said, and the two went into talks shortly afterwards at Carthage Palace.

The crown prince told Tunisian state television that Saudi Arabia has long had good relations with Tunisia. "I cannot come to North Africa without visiting Tunisia ... Tunisia's president is like my father," said bin Salman, who is also known as MBS.

A Tunisian presidency statement issued later said MBS and Essebsi reviewed ways to improve cooperation on the "economy and finance, investment promotion and security and military cooperation to counter extremism and terrorism".

Criticism over Yemen war

However, the mood on the streets of Tunisia was far less welcoming.

Khashoggi's murder has also led to increased scrutiny of Saudi Arabia's role in Yemen's devastating war.

"It's inhuman to see an Arab leader killing his brothers in Yemen, and the murder of a journalist is the icing on the cake," said Basma Rezgui, a teacher brandishing a red-stained saw.

Translation: The whipper of women is not welcome

On Monday, an inquiry into bin Salman's possible involvement in war crimes was opened in Argentina, ahead of the G-20 summit the Saudi crown prince is expected to attend there later this week alongside other world leaders.

Saudi Arabia has faced intense global criticism over the killing of Khashoggi in its Istanbul consulate on 2 October.

The Saudi loyalist-turned-critic was reportedly dismembered in what Saudi officials have described as a "rogue" operation. The CIA has pointed the finger at the crown prince, concluding he ordered the murder.

MBS's visit to Tunisia was the first by a Saudi royal to the North African country since the 2011 revolution deposed longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia.

It was also short-lived, as the crown prince left Tunisia on Tuesday evening after only a few hours, Al Arabiya television said. He is expected to fly on to a G-20 summit in Argentina.

Revolutionary Tunisia

Under the title "No to polluting revolutionary Tunisia," Tunisian journalists and 12 civil society organisations held a press conference on Monday at the headquarters of the syndicate, condemning their government for hosting bin Salman, whom they held responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“The consulate should have been a safe refuge for any journalist, irrespective of their affiliation,” Sakina Abdel Samad, secretary-general of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, said at the news conference.

“We refuse to turn Tunisia into a destination to whitewash war crimes,” she said.

The Saudi crown prince has also held talks in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt on his first foreign tour since the Khashoggi affair erupted.

In Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi praised the "unshakable strategic alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia" during bin Salman's visit, the state-run newspaper al-Ahram reported on Tuesday.

"The stability and security of Saudi Arabia is an integral part of Egypt's security," Sisi was quoted as saying.

However, the crown prince is set to skip a visit to Morocco during his tour of the region.

Moroccan media have speculated on the reason for the decision, with Morocco World News quoting a government source as saying Morocco's King Mohammed VI had declined to meet with the Saudi leader, citing a “busy schedule”.

According to the source, the Moroccan king decided his country was not ready to host the crown prince "at such a critical juncture," the report said.