Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the country’s prime minister and froze parliament for 30 days on Sunday, posing a major test to the young democracy and escalating a political crisis that has built for months. Opponents condemned the move as an attempted coup.
Saied announced that he was firing Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and that he and a new prime minister, to be named in the coming hours, would take up executive authority. Under Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, executive power is shared by the president, prime minister and the parliament.
Saied also suspended lawmakers’ parliamentary immunity.
“We have taken these decisions … until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” he said in a televised speech after an emergency meeting with security leaders.
The moves came on Tunisia’s Republic Day, traditionally a day of celebration and protest across the North African country. This year, amid a floundering economy, a devastating coronavirus surge and widespread anger at the government, it was marked by displays of public rage.
Thousands of Tunisians across the country demonstrated on Sunday, reiterating the calls for the dissolution of parliament that have resounded at street protests in recent months, reflecting the deep dissatisfaction of many in the Arab Spring’s only lasting democracy. Scuffles between police and protesters broke out at several points. Police in Tunis, the capital, fired tear gas and made several arrests.
Videos on social media Sunday appeared to show some demonstrators vandalizing local party offices of Ennahda. The moderate Islamist party has been the most significant player in Tunisian politics since the country’s 2011 revolution. It holds a plurality of seats in parliament, but it is highly unpopular among many segments of the population.
Tunisians, defying a coronavirus curfew, cheered, ululated, lit flares and waved flags on the streets of cities across Tunisia following Saied’s announcement. Videos on social media showed an army tank driving along the capital’s central artery to applause from the crowd.
Saied stepped out of a car and waved to supporters on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Tunis, state television broadcasts showed. Wearing a face mask and flanked by guards, he walked along the congested street, which was the epicenter of the 2011 revolution.
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