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Amid political crisis, Tunisia announces 'national dialogue' without participation of opposition

Tunisian President Kais Saied (file photo)

Tunisia's President Kais Saied has announced the launch of "national dialogue" to help resolve a deepening political crisis that has engulfed the North African country following his power grab last year.

In a speech late Sunday, Saied said a commission would manage the talks, which will include the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

He further ruled out the participation of the opposition parties and civil society organizations which have denounced his seizure of power, saying those "who sabotaged, starved and mistreated the people" will not be included in the talks.

That would include his main rival, Ennahda, which is Tunisia's biggest political party.

Saied also said that a committee preparing constitutional reforms for "a New Republic" will be completed soon, with a referendum on the proposals slated for July 25, followed by legislative elections on December 17.

In July last year and after violent rallies against the government demanding the improvement of basic services, 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.

On March 30, 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.

Saied, a former law professor who took office in 2019, has been accused by his opponents of orchestrating a new dictatorship, a decade after the 2011 revolt that overthrew long-time ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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

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