MONASTIR, TUNISIA -- Habib Bourguiba may no longer be president of Tunisia, but he is still the man who matters most in Monastir.

While the rest of Tunisia busies itself dismantling the personality cult of Tunisia's "supreme combatant," overthrown in a bloodless coup last month after ruling for 31 years, his home town defiantly proclaims its allegiance to him.

Visitors fly into Habib Bourguiba International Airport, a living monument to the deposed president.

Portraits of the young "father of the nation," bearing scant resemblance to the 84-year-old man who was declared senile and replaced by his prime minister, hang from nearly every lamp post and adorn the entrances of most cafes and hotels.

References to the man who took over, Prime Minister Zine Abidin Ben Ali, are strangely absent.

In most other towns, pictures and posters of Ben Ali sprang up hours after the changeover while newspapers and television reports previously full of Bourguiba's exploits suddenly contained no mention of him.

Since then, other symbols of Bourguiba's rule have been quietly fading away, and plans to build a $3 million monument to the deposed leader were shelved recently in the name of austerity.

Bourguiba's birthplace has more to remember, and much to be thankful for. Grants lavished on this ancient east coast fishing port during Bourguiba's rule transformed it into an affluent center for the country's booming tourist trade.

A large, modern Habib Bourguiba mosque overlooks the old quarters of the town. Tourists stroll down Habib Bourguiba Avenue, turn into Fatouma Bourguiba Avenue, named after his mother, and later find themselves on Ali Bourguiba Street, named after his father.

Dominating the whole town is the magnificent golden-domed Bourguiba family mausoleum, flanked by green and white minarets.

Many other Tunisians have long resented the money spent on Monastir. "Just look at the roads there. I've nothing against tourism, but something is wrong when they get better treatment than everybody else in the country," said Hmida Ennaifer, a professor at Tunis University.

Bourguiba is under house arrest at a palace just outside the capital, Tunis. There are no plans for him to return to Monastir, and the town is slowly coming to terms with its loss of a powerful patron.

It was given a sharp reminder of what his departure means when plans to build a new $10 million runway at the airfield were suddenly axed.

Despite a keenness to play down the Bourguiba era, the new government has said nothing that could indicate that his body will not finally be laid to rest within the costly monument to his memory.

The new leaders have frequently said Bourguiba will be treated with the dignity befitting a man who steered this North African state from independence from France in 1956 to one of the most western-oriented states in the Arab world.

"They should have let him stay on a little longer. He was a harmless old man. Why couldn't they just leave him alone?" an elderly waiter said.