By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA, Associated Press
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's president on Thursday lifted the state of emergency that has been in place since the outbreak of a popular revolution three years ago, and a top military chief said soldiers stationed in some of the country's most sensitive areas will return to their barracks.
The decree from President Moncef Marzouki said the state of emergency ordered in January 2011 is lifted across the country immediately.
The state of emergency was imposed by longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and maintained after he was overthrown. It was repeatedly renewed.
Lifting the state of emergency is a positive sign for Tunisian and foreign investors, Finance Minister Hakim Ben Hammouda said on Radio Mosaique. The end of a state of emergency could also help lure tourists back to the Mediterranean country. The thriving tourist industry was devastated after the revolution and is only slowly clawing its way back.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki acknowledged the positive message. "We welcome this positive development and will continue to support Tunisia as it moves forward with its democratic transition," Psaki told reporters.
At the start, the state of emergency included a curfew and a ban on meetings of more than three people, but it was relaxed over time. However it has continued to give the military and police special powers to intervene in unrest or security threats.
Tunisia has been battling al-Qaida linked and other extremists since the revolution, but officials said the security situation has improved recently.
Col. Maj. Mokhtar Ben Nasr told The Associated Press that soldiers deployed in force across Tunisia would return to their barracks.
After the end of the dictatorship that touched off the Arab Spring uprisings across the region, Tunisians brought a moderate Islamist party into power allied with two other secular parties. But the coalition struggled in the face of continuing social unrest, high unemployment, the rise of a radical Islamist movement and the assassination of two left-wing politicians. A major trouble spot remains an extremist base near Tunisia's border with Algeria, which is working with its neighbor to stamp out crossings between the countries.
Despite that, Tunisia remains a regional bright spot, since its fractious elected assembly finally wrote and passed a progressive constitution earlier this year.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.