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Tunisian pro-democracy groups accept Nobel Peace Prize

The Tunisian civil society groups have been lauded as a model of successful dialogue and tolerance on the road to democracy. They called for the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a fight against terrorism.

The National Dialogue Quartet - composed of the Tunisian General Labor Union, the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers - accepted the prestigious award in Oslo on Thursday for fostering a national dialogue at a critical juncture in the country's democratic transition.

Formed in 2013, the quartet is credited with saving democracy in the Tunisia at a time other post-Arab Spring countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen have experienced chaos and state collapse, and Egypt reverted to authoritarianism.

"This year's prize is truly a prize for peace, awarded against a backdrop of unrest and war," the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Kaci Kullmann Five said at the formal award ceremony.

"If every country had done as Tunisia has done, and paved the way for dialogue, tolerance, democracy and equal rights, far fewer people would have been forced to flee," Kullmann Five said, referring the violent chaos in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa that has uprooted millions of people from their homes.

The quartet engineered a national dialogue during a period of social upheaval between the Islamist Ennahda party and secular opponents, a process that later ushered in a compromise constitution and elections that saved a fragile democratic experiment in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

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National Dialogue Quartet pride of Tunisia

"Its work has led to a better platform for peace and non-violent resolution of conflicts. This is a story about building strong institutions to ensure justice and stability, and demonstrating the will to engage in dialogue and cooperation," Kullmann Five said.

Need to fight terrorism, create Palestinian state

However, in a sign of just how fragile the nascent democracy can be, Tunisia has instituted a state of emergency for the second time this year after being hit by a series of terror attacks. The country is also the largest source of foreign jihadists with some 5,000 joining the "Islamic State."

An attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March killed 21 people, another at a beach hotel in June killed 38 foreigners, and a suicide attack in November on presidential security guards killed 12 people.

Likening those "barbaric and heinous terrorist acts" to Paris, Bamako, Beirut, Sharm el-Sheikh, Houcine Abassi, the head of the Tunisian General Labor Union, said the world needed to fight terrorism, which he tied to the creation of a Palestinian state.

"Today we are most in need to make the fight against terrorism an absolute priority, which means perseverance on the coordination and cooperation between all nations to drain its resources and isolated from the incubators," Abassi said to the crowd of politicians and intellectuals before accepting the prize.

"Today, we need to accelerate the elimination of hot spots all over the world, particularly the resolution of the Palestinian issue and enable the Palestinian people the right to self-determination on their land and build their independent state," he continued.

cw/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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