Tunisian parties reject 'meddling' by US senators to discuss crisis

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Tunisian leader of the Popular Front and spokesman of the Tunisian Workers' Party Hamma Hammami (C) attends a meeting in the capital Tunis with all political parties to decide on the date of the next municipal elections on 18 September 2017. (Photo by Getty Images)

Tunisia's influential General Labor Union (UGTT) and two political parties have turned down an offer to discuss the country’s political crisis with a visiting US congressional delegation, insisting they reject any foreign meddling in local crisis.

"Our Tunisian affair should be resolved only among Tunisians, UGTT union will not participate in the invitation of the American embassy," said UGTT union spokesman Sami Tahri on Friday.

Tahri said UGTT – which plays a key role in Tunisia’s political scene -- did not accept the bullying of foreigners in the time of former Western-backed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and "will not accept it today and tomorrow."

The remarks came amid reports that US Senator Chris Murphy would lead a congressional delegation to discuss the path forward to “protect democracy in Tunisia” in a visit on Saturday, after President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers in July in an extraordinary measure was dismissed by local critics as a coup.

The US delegation, which will visit Tunisia as part of a regional visit that included Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank, intends to discuss with local officials and politicians the crisis in Tunisia.

Even the country’s Free Constitutional Party, led by Abir Moussi and a supporter of Ben Ali -- toppled in the 2011 revolution – as well as the Achaab Party – allied with Saied -- rejected the invitation to hold talks with the American delegation, saying there is no way to accept any interference in local crisis.

Saied dismissed on July 25 his prime minister, froze parliament and assumed executive authority in a sudden intervention that his opponents have censured as “a coup” but he justified as necessary to save the country from collapse.

He then extended the unprecedented move indefinitely just last week, with his office issuing "a presidential decree extending the exceptional measures... regarding the suspension of Parliament and lifting of the parliamentary immunity of its MPs until further notice.”

The president is to address the nation in the coming days, the statement said, without providing further details.

Saied's postponement in appointing a new government or announcing his longer-term plans has sparked further anxiety among many Tunisians fearing a lack of direction in the face of major economic challenges or even a return to autocracy.

He is widely anticipated to announce new measures that would reassure a highly anxious Tunisian public and allay international concerns about Tunisia entering an authoritarian era.

Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament for 30 days in July, following mass protests in several cities against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tunisia’s biggest political party Ennahda denounced the move as "arbitrary" and "unjustified".

Saied has said he would assume executive authority “with the help” of a government whose new chief he would personally appoint.

Ever since, authorities have placed several officials, including former ministers, under house arrest. Several politicians, lawmakers, businessmen and judges also say they have been banned from traveling abroad.

Apart from plunging the country into a political limbo, the latest developments have exacerbated political polarization in Tunisia.

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