AN elderly Selkirk couple have praised Tunisians who helped them flee the country at the height of the north African country’s violent protests.
George Finney, 72 and his wife Agnes, 71, were stuck in the capital city of Tunis last Wednesday as guns were fired and protests against the government reached their height.
But the couple were taken to safety amid the chaotic scenes and returned home on an emergency flight last Friday – more than five weeks earlier than scheduled.
And Borderers scheduled to visit the popular holiday destination in the coming weeks are being told not to travel.
Mr and Mrs Finney arrived in Tunisia on January 2 and were due to stay for seven weeks.
But it was on a day-trip to Tunis from their holiday base of Hammamet that the trouble started.
Mr Finney told TheSouthern: “We were in a little market when it all kicked off. We never saw anything but could hear chanting and gun fire.
“The locals were very good to us. They handed us on to the police who took us to the bus station to get us out.
“We were told to be ready to leave at 7am on Friday morning. As we were taken to the airport we saw soldiers holding guns and rubber bullets and shells lying on the ground around them.
“We flew to Manchester and were bused back to Newcastle.
“We got no warning whatsoever (of the protests). There was trouble all across the country, not just Tunis. It is the first and last time I will be going to Tunisia.”
Tunisia has faced its worst protests in decades, with a graduate, who set himself on fire last month to highlight the lack of jobs, said to have been the catalyst. Since then, unrest has spread across the country, with 78 deaths reported in a month of violence.
The day after Mr and Mrs Finney were caught up in the Tunis protests, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali stood down and dissolved government.
A state of emergency was announced on Friday, with a new cabinet put together on Monday. However, by Tuesday, three ministers had withdrawn from the newly formed government,
About 3,000 British tourists fled Tunisia last weekend, but an estimated 1,000 Brits were still in the country on Monday.
Mr Finney is glad not to be among remaining holidaymakers as he has watched protestors continue to battle with police and the army this week.
The former electronics worker added: “If you paid me £1,000 and offered me a 10-week holiday in Tunisia, I would not go back. You go on holiday for the sun, you don’t expect bullets to be fired around.
“We heard the protestors are hitting hotels now because they need money.
“When you see what is happening you realise you were lucky.”
As yet, Mr and Mrs Finney do not know what compensation they will receive, but Mr Finney described their tour operator Thomas Cook’s response to the crisis as “great”.
A Foreign Office statement on Monday said: “We advise against all but essential travel to Tunisia.
“Looting and violence has continued overnight with clashes between the military and groups loyal to the ex-president.
“Reports tell of gunfire in residential areas of Tunis. Large-scale demonstrations, some violent, and further looting are still possible in multiple locations across the country.”