[This article was translated and read in Tunisian]
July 19, 1961. French planes fly low over Bizerte. On the ground, Tunisian soldiers and volunteers are getting ready to attack the military base that is occupied by French soldiers. In town, the locals are not yet aware of the battle that is about to commence.
Five years after Tunisian independence, Habib Bourguiba gave General de Gaulle an ultimatum: the French army would have until midnight July 19 to leave Tunisian territory. However, France did not intend to leave Bizerte, which served as a strategic point in the Mediterranean, especially in connection to the war in Algeria.
The offensive began at night. Well trained and well equipped, the French army quickly gained the upper hand against Tunisia, which consequently suffered heavy losses. Abdelhamid Riahi, 22 years old at the time, was sent to fight in this city that was unknown to him. Although 60 years have gone by, memories of the battle are still vivid in his mind.
" It was terrifying, there were injured people everywhere, people screaming and crying. More people were dead than alive. I was very lucky to survive the battle", says the veteran.
The defeat was bitter for Tunisia. According to official numbers, more than 600 Tunisians (and even thousands according to other sources) were killed. On the other side (still according to official sources), France reported less than 30 casualties. The French soldiers maintained their position in the base and ultimately left Bizerte silently on 15 October 1963.
Like many others, Abdelhamid Riahi is still waiting on some recompense, both from Tunisia and France, and for a tribute worthy of the battle that he had to fight. " I fought, but everything has now been forgotten."
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