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Thousands rally in Tunisia against President Saied, slam him for seizing all power

Demonstrators carry flags and banners during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, on October 10, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Thousands of Tunisian protesters have taken to the streets of Tunis to voice their anger against what they called President Kais Saied’s seizure of all power in the North African country, a week after a huge rally was held in his support in the capital.

A large number of police forces stopped demonstrators from advancing along the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis on Sunday, but no clashes occurred between the two sides.

“We will not accept the coup. Enough is enough,” said a protester.

The rally was held a week after more than 8,000 demonstrators marched in support of Saied, raising the possibility that political divisions in Tunisia could morph into street confrontations between rival camps.

“The Tunisian police are republican police and they do not intervene in any political side,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Hayouni, assuring that police would deal with protesters from both sides in the same way.

Saied, who was elected in late 2019, dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspended the parliament, invoked emergency powers, and assumed all executive powers in mid-July.

The moves, which followed months of political deadlock in the face of a pressing economic crisis and mounting coronavirus deaths, infuriated his opponents, who denounced it as a coup.

Last month, he brushed aside much of the constitution, which he said he would appoint a committee to amend. He also said that he could rule by decree during an “exceptional” period with no set ending.

Following Saied's seizure of governing powers, thousands of protesters rallied in the capital, calling on him to step down and demanding the constitution be respected.

The crisis is seen as undermining the democratic gains of the 2011 Tunisian revolution, which triggered what became known as the Arab Spring protests.

Four political parties in Tunisia have already announced a coalition to oppose Saied’s move, urging him to reverse what they called his power grab.

However, Saied has defended his controversial moves, saying they were necessary to address a crisis of political paralysis, economic stagnation, and the poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He has promised to establish “a true democracy in which the people are truly sovereign.”

After years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, his intervention appears to be popular.

Late last month, the president appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane as Tunisia’s first-ever female prime minister-designate, but she has not yet formed her cabinet with limited executive clout.

Forming a government is an important precursor to any efforts to settle the North African country’s looming crisis in public finances.

On Saturday, Saied assured that Romdhane would name her government so soon, adding that he would initiate a dialogue with Tunisians over the future.

While opinion polls show Saied's moves have widespread support, his long delay in declaring a timeline out of the crisis has started to cement opposition to him.

Years of paralysis, corruption, declining state services and growing unemployment had angered many Tunisians over their political system before the COVID-19 pandemic smashed the economy last year. Infection rates also surged this summer in the crisis-hit North African country.

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