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Anti-govt. protesters in Tunisia accuse president of ‘failed dictatorship’, want him removed

Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied after he dissolved the parliament last month, in Tunis, Tunisia, April 10, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Tunisians protesters have accused President Kais Saied of establishing a ‘failed dictatorship’, demanding his removal, days after he dissolved the North African country’s parliament.

More than a thousand Tunisians, including many members of parliament, participated in the protest rally on Sunday, which occurred with a heavy presence of anti-riot police, chanting, “The people want to overthrow the coup” and “Down with the coup.”

“There is no democracy without legislative power,” shouted other protesters, who defied the large deployment of riot police to take to the streets.

“We are facing a failed dictatorship that is leading the country to an economic disaster… We will continue to protest in the streets until a coup is forced to reverse its decisions,” said Chaima Issa, an activist.

Then a political neophyte, Saied clinched a landslide victory in general elections in 2019, vowing to clean up Tunisian politics.

In July last year and after violent rallies against the government demanding the improvement of basic services, however, Saied suspended the parliament, known as the Assembly of Representatives, for a month and relieved the prime minister of his duties, waived the immunity of lawmakers, and ordered the military to close the parliament house.

The president later extended the suspension of the parliament until a new election takes place. In September, he announced that he would rule by decree, ignoring parts of the constitution. In February this year, he also dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, a top independent judicial watchdog.

Late last month, Saied dissolved the parliament hours after more than half members of the suspended parliament held a plenary session online and voted through a bill against Saied’s “exceptional measures,” although he had dismissed their meeting as illegal.

Opponents accused him of launching a coup and attempting to assume near-total power.

“We will continue to resist the coup and we will not retreat. We will not accept this dictatorship,” said Samira Chaouchi, one of two deputy speakers of parliament, on Sunday rally.

On Monday, a delegation from the European Parliament will visit Tunisia to urge the return of the democracy established after the 2011 revolution that put an end the autocratic rule of the late President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Saied, a former law professor, says he will form a committee to rewrite the constitution, put it to a referendum in July, and hold parliamentary elections in December.

Critics say Saied has moved Tunisia, which faces a grinding economic crisis, down a dangerous path back toward autocracy.

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