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Sunday, January 11, 2009


North Africa's smallest country packs in enough diversity for a continent. Vestiges of former rulers dot the landscape: the remains of the mighty city-state of Carthage; Roman ruins that demonstrate this was Rome's richest imperial province; medieval medinas (walled cities) built at the beginning of the Arabic era; and elegant 19th century French colonial boulevards. The country's cuisine is also a delicious hotchpotch - French, North African, Middle Eastern and Turkish.Beautiful beaches punctuate its 1,400km (875 miles) of Mediterranean coast. In the south lie the undulating Sahara, salt lakes and otherworldly Berber architecture, used as locations for Star Wars and the English Patient. In the north, mountains are cloaked in cork forest, while the Cap Bon peninsular and central Tunisia are rich in fruit trees, olive groves and vineyards.This is Arabia at its most relaxed. Women's rights are better served than anywhere else in the Arabic world. Alcohol is freely available. After independence in 1956, Tunisia was ruled for three decades by Habib Bourguiba, a great paternalist and moderniser. Since his fall, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has continued along a similar path, focusing on a separation of state and religion, exerting strict media control and discouraging Islamic fundamentalism and any type of opposition.