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A police officer is reflected in a mirror as a demonstrator gestures during an antigovernment protest in Tunis, Tunisia, July 25 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ZOUBEIR SOUISSI
A police officer is reflected in a mirror as a demonstrator gestures during an antigovernment protest in Tunis, Tunisia, July 25 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ZOUBEIR SOUISSI

Tunis  — Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday suspended parliament, lifted the immunity of all deputies and dismissed Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi after violent protests in several Tunisian cities.

Saied added that he will assume the presidency of the executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister. 

The statement followed protests by thousands of people in the Tunisian capital and other cities on Sunday demanding the government step down after a spike in Covid-19 cases that has aggravated economic troubles.

“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people,” Saied said in a statement carried on state media. “I warn any who think of resorting to weapons ... and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.

Tunisian parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who is also leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party,  accused Saied of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution” after the move, reports said.

In Tunis, police used pepper spray against protesters who threw stones and shouted slogans demanding that Mechichi quit and parliament be dissolved.

Witnesses said rallies were held in the cities of Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid, Monastir and Nabeul. Demonstrators in Sousse tried to storm the local headquarters of the biggest party in parliament, Ennahda. In Touzeur, protesters set fire to the Ennahda headquarters.

The protests raise pressure on a fragile government that is enmeshed in a political struggle with Saied, who is trying to avert a looming fiscal crisis amid a weeks-long spike in Covid-19 cases and increased death rates.

The pandemic has hit Tunisia as it struggles to lift an economy that has suffered since its 2011 revolution, undermining public support for democracy as unemployment surged and state services declined.

“Our patience has run out ... there are no solutions for the unemployed,” said Nourredine Selmi, a jobless protester. “They cannot control the epidemic.... They can't give us vaccines.”

Last week, Mechichi sacked the health minister after chaotic scenes at walk-in vaccination centres during the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, where large crowds queued for inadequate supplies of vaccine.

After a year of wrangling with Mechichi and Ghannouchi, Saied declared the army would take over the pandemic response.

Some analysts saw the move as an attempt to expand his powers beyond the foreign and military role assigned to the president in the 2014 constitution.

Government paralysis could derail efforts to negotiate an International Monetary Fund loan seen as crucial to stabilising state finances but which could also involve spending cuts that would aggravate economic pain for ordinary people. 



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