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Tunisian army chief of staff to leave post

Tunisian Armed Forces General Rachid Ammar (R) speaks with Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou at the government palace in Tunis March 14, 20
Tunisian Armed Forces General Rachid Ammar (R) speaks with Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou at the government palace in Tunis March 14, 20

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian army chief Rachid Ammar abruptly announced his retirement on Monday night amid increased political tensions surrounding the country's transition to democracy.

"I decided to leave the service under the age limit .. I asked the president on Saturday and he agreed to my departure," Ammar, 65, said in a live television program.

Tunisian democracy activists initially hailed the army's role in the revolution that toppled former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 and inspired revolts across the Arab world.

But public support has waned after the extradition last year of Muammar Gaddafi's prime minister, Baghadi al-Mahmoudi, to Libya. Ammar was accused of having a role in the extradition, which sparked a political crisis in Tunisia over concerns Mahmoudi would not get a fair trial in Libya.

Ammar's retirement comes at a sensitive time for the country where the "Arab Spring" was born, with tensions growing between the moderate government and Salafist Muslim activists. The army also recently pursued dozens of suspected al Qaeda-linked militants near the border with Algeria.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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