A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Tunisia's Evacuation Day: The Last French Leave Bizerte, 1963

Today is Evacuation Day in Tunisia, marking the 51st anniversary of the withdrawal of the last French troops from Bizerte. With the Parliamentary elections coming late this month, it may be worth noting a somewhat forgotten crisis in Tunisian history (not forgotten by Tunisians, of course).

Bizerte in 1961 (Wikipedia)
When Tunisia became independent in 1956, France retained the rights to its naval base at the northern port city of Bizerte, controlling the city as well as the base. President Habib Bourguiba saw it as a remnant of colonial rule, one which France also used in fighting against the Algerian struggle for independence. In July of 1961, Tunisia declared a blockade of the city and ordered the French not to violate Tunisian air space. When a French helicopter did so, it was fired upon. French paratroops were sent in, and fighting erupted. By the time a ceasefire was declared, 630 Tunisians and 24 French were dead, and many wounded.

The result of the three days of fighting were negotiations that led to the final withdrawal of French troops on October 15, 1963. The videos below show the aftermath of the 1961 fighting.

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