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History, The Republic

Bourguiba, Bizerte, Tunisians, Security Council resolution, French nationals

On July 25, 1957, the National Assembly overthrew the last vestiges of the monarchy by deposing the bey, proclaiming Tunisia a republic, and electing Bourguiba president. On August 5, all beylical properties and funds were confiscated by the republic and applied to a debt of $3,840,000 owed by the bey to the state. Widespread dismissals of French civil servants were carried out in the months following. As a result, about a third of the French residents of Tunisia, fearing further anti-French actions, fled the country, taking considerable amounts of capital and diminishing sharply the available reserves of technological skills.

Relations with France deteriorated in the late summer and autumn of 1957 as a result of clashes between French and Tunisian troops along the Tunisian-Algerian border. The clashes occurred when French troops, pursuing Algerian rebels, allegedly crossed the border into Tunisia.

In the early months of 1958 the crisis in foreign relations was exacerbated still further. On February 8, French military planes flew across the Algerian border and bombed the Tunisian village of Sakiet-Sidi-Youssef (now Saqiyat Sidi Yusuf), killing 68 Tunisians and wounding 100. French government representatives announced later the same day that the raid had been conducted in retaliation for the machine-gunning of French planes flying over the area on February 7.

Tunisia became a member state of the Arab League on October 1. On October 15, however, Tunisia ended its diplomatic relations with Egypt (then called the United Arab Republic). In November Tunisia resigned from the league.

France and Tunisia, on April 15, 1959, signed an agreement continuing French technical assistance. In 1960, Tunisia agreed to make part payment for land confiscated from French nationals; France would pay the balance. A new constitution was promulgated on June 1, 1959. On November 8, the first elections under the constitution were held. Unopposed, Bourguiba was reelected president, and the Neo-Destour Party won all seats in the National Assembly.

Following French rejection of a Tunisian note demanding the immediate evacuation of the naval base at Bizerte, Tunisian troops on July 19, 1961, began a siege of the base. In the next two days French forces broke the blockade and surrounded the entire city, taking a toll of 1,300 Tunisian lives. Both sides accepted a UN Security Council resolution of July 22 calling for a cease-fire. The UN General Assembly, in addition, on August 25 called on France to quit Bizerte altogether. Shortly thereafter both sides withdrew to the positions occupied before the fighting. After prolonged discussions between France and Tunisia, beginning in 1962, France completely withdrew from Bizerte in October 1963.

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