Tunisian president ousts government, sparking celebration, outrage

Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed the government and froze parliament, sparking street celebrations by tens of thousands of people and accusations of a coup by the largest party in parliament.

Saied said he would assume executive power in a country suffering from political paralysis, rising corruption and surging levels of COVID-19, which have led to economic crisis.

Military vehicles surrounded the parliament. People nearby cheered and sang the national anthem, Reuters reported citing two witnesses. Saied’s decision followed protests on Sunday, with much of the public anger focused on the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the biggest in the parliamentary assembly, it said.

Ennahda leader and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi labelled Saied’s decision as a "fully-fledged coup" against the Tunisian constitution, revolution and freedoms in the country, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said. Ennahda has close political and ideological ties to Turkey’s governing Justice and Development Party.

Soldiers stationed at parliament did not allow Ghannouchi and accompanying lawmakers to enter the building. The Ennahda leader called on Tunisians to come onto the streets in protest.

Saied warned against any violent response to his decision, saying “whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets”, Reuters said.

Ennahda was banned before the 2011 Tunisian revolution. It has been the most successful political party since, taking part in several coalition governments.

Former President Moncef Marzouki and the leader of Karama, another political party, both labelled Saied’s move as a coup, according to Reuters.

“I ask the Tunisian people to pay attention to the fact that they imagine this to be the beginning of a solution. It is the beginning of slipping into an even worse situation,” Marzouki said.

Tens of thousands of people remained on the streets of the capital Tunis and other cities hours after Saied’s decision, with some setting off fireworks as helicopters circled overhead, Reuters reported.

“We have been relieved of them,” said Lamia Meftahi, a woman celebrating in central Tunis, according to Reuters. “This is the happiest moment since the revolution.”

Police had used tear gas to disperse protesters attempting to storm the Ennahda headquarters in Tunis late on Sunday.

“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people,” Saied said in a statement justifying his decision. He is an independent without the support of any political party.

Tunisians elected Saied in a landslide in 2019. No party held more than a quarter of seats in parliament after parliamentary elections the same year. The now ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi took office last summer, replacing another short-lived government.  

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