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Tunisians hold biggest protest yet against president

The file photo shows Tunisians holding a rally against President Kais Saied.

Thousands of people have once again taken to the streets of Tunisia's capital in what appeared to be the biggest protest yet against President Kais Saied's power grab and his latest crackdown on opponents in the African country.

The protesters, who were members of Tunisia's powerful UGTT trade union, held a mass rally in central Tunis on Saturday, following the arrest of many well-known anti-government figures.

The protesters marched through the main street in the center of the capital, as they held banners reading "No to one-man rule" and chanted "Freedom! End the police state".

UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi told the crowd that "We will continue to defend freedoms and rights, whatever the cost," stressing that " We do not fear prisons or arrests."

He also referred to the recent detentions in Tunis, saying "I salute the jurists and politicians in the Mornaguia Prison."

In recent weeks, police have detained more than a dozen prominent opposition figures, mostly tied to the coalition of parties and protesters that are planning to rally, accusing them of conspiring against state security.

The arrestees include many well-known anti-government figures such as senior opposition figure Jawhar Ben Mbarek and a senior former member of the Muslim Ennahdha Party.

They also feature a journalist, two judges, a senior official from Tunisia's powerful UGTT trade union, and businessman Kamel Eltaief, the head of Tunisia's most popular radio station Mosaique FM.

Critics have warned that the arrests may be linked to the government's efforts to stifle dissent. The United Nations Human Rights Office has also called for the detainees' immediate release.

The country has been hosting thousands-strong protests against the apprehensions and other policies of the government of President Kais Saied.

Saied, a former law professor, was elected in 2019 amid public anger against the political class.

On July 25, 2021, he launched a power grab, sacking the government, freezing the country's parliament -- known as the Assembly of the Representatives of the People -- and seizing wide-ranging powers.

He later gave himself powers to rule and legislate by decree and seized control over the judiciary, in what rivals saw as further blows to democracy in the birthplace of the 2011 popular uprisings.

The Tunisian president insists that his measures are meant to save the country from a civil war. Critics, however, have accused him of orchestrating a coup.

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