Tunisia's President Kais Saied says he will issue a decree effectively dissolving the key judicial council, which oversees the independent performance of the country's judges.
Saied said in a speech during a cabinet meeting on Thursday that he will name a new Supreme Judiciary Council.
"Let me be clear: the council will be dissolved and replaced by another one, by decree," he said.
A few minutes after the president's announcement, the council rejected the presidential decree saying the "current structure is the only representative of the judiciary."
More than 200 judges and lawyers in black robes protested in front of a main court in the Tunisian capital Tunis, shouting slogans calling for Saied to respect the independence of the judiciary.
Some held signs stating: "There is no democracy without an independent judiciary."
Saied, who took power with the promise of reforms, said on Sunday that the Supreme Judicial Council was a “thing of the past.”
He accused members of the council of taking “billions” in bribes. The president also accused council members of delaying politically sensitive investigations, including a probe into the assassinations of left-wing activists in 2013.
Tunisia's top judge has already accused Saied of undermining the judiciary's independence by dissolving the top council. The council's head, Youssef Bouzakher, recently said Saied’s declaration represented an attempt to bring judges under presidential instruction.
Since seizing power, Saied has dissolved the parliament and sacked the government, dismissing several ministers and top officials as part of reforms.
The former university professor expert on constitutional law, Saied rose to power in October 2019, pledging to combat corruption. However, opponents have expressed fear of a slide back to the authoritarianism seen under long-time ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.