14 May 2024, 09:37

Tunisian swimming chiefs arrested over flag dispute

TUNIS, May 14, 2024 (AFP) - The heads of Tunisia's swimming federation and
National Anti-Doping Organisation (ANAD) have been arrested after the
country's flag was covered at a meet in Tunis, a prosecutor's office
spokesman told AFP on Monday.

In response to sanctions by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which had banned
the Tunisian flag from competitions, the flag was covered on Friday during a
championship organised by the national swimming federation at the Rades
Olympic pool.

That provoked an outraged reaction from Tunisian President Kais Saied.

After an investigation, nine people are, so far, being prosecuted, including
the two presidents who have been in police custody since Saturday, and seven
other officials summoned Monday to the Ben Arous court, spokesperson Mohamed
Sadok Jouini said.

They face charges including "attack on the flag of Tunisia", "formation of an
organised group to commit attacks and cause disorder", and "plot against the
internal security" of the state, according to Jouini.

Montreal-based WADA issued a statement Monday night expressing "deep concern"
at the reported arrest of the ANAD director general and calling for his
"immediate and unconditional release from custody, as well as the dropping of
any charges made against him pertaining to this."

WADA said that since the non-conformity in Tunisia was established it had
been working with authorities to deal with the matter quickly.

"Indeed, excellent progress has been made in that regard, making this latest
development all the more unfortunate and untimely.

"WADA remains confident that the matter will be resolved in the very near
future," the agency's statement said.

Hours after the flag incident on Friday, a video released by the president's
office showed Saied visiting the pool, near Tunis, raising the flag and
singing the national anthem.

In a meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani and other cabinet members,
Saied said the country cannot "tolerate this -- Tunisia comes before the
Olympic Committee and before any other committees".

An apparently agitated Saied called the flag covering "an act of aggression".

In a statement issued overnight Friday-Saturday, the Tunisian youth and
sports ministry announced the dissolution of the swimming federation board,
as well as the dismissal of the ANAD chief and a sports official based in Ben
Arous near Tunis.

The decision followed "instructions" by President Saied "to take immediate
measures... against those responsible for the incident of hiding the national
flag", the statement said.

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