Tunisians choose president in run-off elections

media captionNaveena Kottoor reports: For many this was one of the most memorable days of their lives

Voters in Tunisia have been choosing their first freely elected president in a run-off election seen as a landmark in the country's move to democracy.

Beji Caid Essebsi, who won the first round with 39% of the vote, is challenging interim leader Moncef Marzouki.

Mr Essebsi represents the secular-leaning Nidaa Tounes party.

Tunisia was the first country to depose its leader in the Arab Spring and inspired other uprisings in the region.

Polls closed at 18:00 local time (17:00 GMT). Voter turnout had reached 36.8% after four and a half hours of voting, Tunisia's election authority said.

Shortly after polls closed, Mr Essebsi's office said that there were "indications" that he had won.

However, a spokesman for Mr Marzouki said the claims were "without foundation".

'Peaceful' transition

Mr Essebsi, who turned 88 this week, held office under both deposed President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali and Tunisia's first post-independence leader, Habib Bourguiba.

He is popular in the wealthy, coastal regions, and based his appeal to voters on stability and experience.

image copyrightAFP
image captionSecurity was tightened for the election
image copyrightAFP
image captionBeji Caid Essebsi, who leads a secularist party, has support in the wealthy, coastal regions
image copyrightReuters
image captionRival Moncef Marzouki is more popular in the south and interior of Tunisia

His opponent, Moncef Marzouki, is a 67-year-old human rights activists forced into exile by the Ben Ali government.

He has been interim president since 2011 and is more popular in the conservative, poorer south.

After casting his ballot, Mr Marzouki said Tusinians "should be proud" of themselves "because the interim period has come to a peaceful end".

image copyrightEPA
image captionVoting ended at 17:00 GMT

Presidential powers

Mr Marzouki was thought likely to attract support from the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which has played a key role in Tunisian politics since the Arab Spring but did not field a candidate.

Whoever wins faces restricted powers under a constitution passed earlier this year.

The president will be commander-in-chief of the armed forces but can appoint or sack senior officers only in consultation with the prime minister.

The president will also set foreign policy in consultation with the prime minister, represent the state and ratify treaties.

image copyrightAFP
image captionMass protests saw the overthrow of President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali in 2011

Tunisia boosted security for the elections and closed border posts with Libya, which has been plagued by unrest.

A group of at least three attackers targeted a polling station near the city of Kairouan on Sunday morning. Security forces say they killed one attacker and arrested three.

In the build-up to the vote, a video emerged of Islamic State militants claiming responsibility for the 2013 killings of two Tunisian politicians.

The men in the video also condemned the election and threatened more killings.

An interior ministry spokesman dismissed the video, saying the group "mean nothing to us".

About 5.2 million Tunisians were eligible to vote in the run-off poll. At least 88,000 observers oversaw the election, according to Tunisian state media.

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