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Friday February 28th, 2020 4:22AM

The Latest: UN chief says Tunisian leader a 'pivotal figure'

By The Associated Press
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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — The Latest on the death of Tunisia's president (all times local):

7:15 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has described late Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi as "a pivotal figure" who "was instrumental in successfully steering the country through its historic and peaceful transition to democracy."

The United Nations chief said after the death of the North African country's first democratically elected leader that "President Essebsi was a Tunisian pioneer, an Arab and African trailblazer, and a global leader."

Guterres said he was "deeply saddened" to learn of the president's passing at age 92 on Thursday.

He says Essebsi will be remembered for promoting rights of Tunisian women and other citizens.

U.N. General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa also praised Essebsi, saying he "played a key role in promoting the consolidation of political institutions and the rule of law in his country."

She expressed hope "that his legacy will inspire many others and contribute to further strengthen unity and stability in Tunisia."

___

5:15 p.m.

The leader of Tunisia's parliament has been sworn in as the interim president of the North African country after 92-year-old President Beji Essebsi died in office.

The state news agency TAP reported that Mohamed Ennaceur, president of the Assembly of People's Representatives, took the oath of office Thursday, hours after Essebsi's death in the morning.

According to the Tunisian constitution, the parliament chief takes over for a period of 45 to 90 days if the president is incapacitated, until new elections are organized.

Ennaceur appealed for unity in a country still struggling to stabilize its democracy after a 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

A funeral for Essebsi is planned Saturday, and the government declared seven days of mourning.

Condolences came in from other Arab countries, with Jordan and Lebanon also announcing multiple days of mourning.

___

2 p.m.

The head of Tunisia's parliament says he is taking over as the country's interim president after the death of 92-year-old President Beji Caid Essebsi.

The legislature's President Mohamed Ennaceur made the announcement on state television Thursday soon after Essebsi's death, asking Tunisians to unite and praising the former leader's contributions.

The Tunisian constitution calls for the parliament leader to take over temporarily in case the president is incapacitated.

However the Constitutional Court is first supposed to formally confirm that the presidency is vacant, and the court doesn't exist yet. So there is some uncertainty over the legitimacy of Ennaceur's leadership.

The prime minister's office announced seven days of mourning and canceled festivals and other events until further notice.

___

11:25 a.m.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, the North African country's first democratically elected leader, has died. He was 92.

An official in the president's office told The Associated Press that Essebsi died Thursday morning at the Tunis military hospital, where he was taken the night before.

That was the third time in recent weeks that he had been hospitalized.

Under Tunisia's constitution, the president of the parliament will assume the presidency for 45 to 90 days while elections are organized.

Essebsi won office in 2014 in the wake of the country's Arab Spring uprising.

He recently announced he wouldn't run in the election scheduled for November, saying a younger person should lead the country.

___

6:10 a.m.

Tunisian media are reporting the country's 92-year-old president has been taken to a military hospital for the third time in recent weeks.

Radio station Mosaique and state broadcaster Wataniya have reported Beji Caid Essebsi was hospitalized Wednesday night for unspecified health trouble.

Essebsi's office did not make an announcement or respond to requests for comment.

He is Tunisia's first democratically elected president, having won office in 2014 in the wake of the country's Arab Spring uprising. He recently announced he wouldn't run in the election scheduled for November, saying a younger person should lead the country.

Essebsi was hospitalized twice in June. His office released a video of the president meeting with the defense minister Monday, and Essebsi was visibly weakened, raising concerns about his fitness for office.

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