Tunisian president sacks prime minister following protests
Tunisia’s president has sacked the prime minister and frozen parliament’s activities after violent demonstrations over the country’s pandemic response and economic conditions.
Troops surrounded the parliament after its speaker was also blocked from entering, as protesters celebrated in the streets of Tunis following the announcement that Hichem Mechichi had been removed as leader late on Sunday.
President Kais Saied said he will name a new prime minister in the coming hours to bring calm to the country.
However, the president’s critics accused him of a power grab that threatens Tunisia’s young democracy.
Chief among them was the parliament speaker and the head of Islamist movement Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, who called the move “a coup against the constitution and the (Arab Spring) revolution”.
Thousands of people defied virus restrictions and scorching heat to demonstrate in the capital of Tunis and other cities.
The largely young crowds chanted slogans calling for the dissolution of parliament and a new early election.
Tunisia’s economy has been struggling for years, and the country recently reimposed lockdowns and other virus restrictions as it faces one of Africa’s worst virus outbreaks.
After the announcement of the president’s decision, army units were deployed around the capital, and an Associated Press reporter saw military vehicles heading toward the parliament in nearby Bardo.
Mr Saied used a special constitutional measure allowing him to assume executive power and freeze parliament for an unspecified period of time until normal institutional procedures can be restored.
“We have taken these decisions … until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” he said in a televised address after an emergency security meeting.
Mr Saied cited concerns about violence as a reason for his decision, and warned against any breach of public order, threatening troublemakers with severe penalties.
“We have taken these decisions … until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” he said.
The protests were called on the 64th anniversary of Tunisia’s independence by a new group called the July 25 Movement.
Security forces deployed in force, especially in Tunis where police blocked all streets leading to the main artery of the capital, Avenue Bourguiba.
The avenue was a key site for the Tunisian revolution a decade ago that brought down a dictatorial regime and unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings.
Police also deployed around the parliament, preventing demonstrators from accessing it.
Officers used tear gas to disperse some demonstrators throwing projectiles at officers and made several arrests.
Clashes also took place in several other towns, notably in Nabeul, Sousse, Kairouan, Sfax and Tozeur.
Protesters also stormed the offices of the Islamist movement Ennahdha, the dominant force in parliament. Videos circulating online showed smoke pouring out of the Ennahdha building.
The attackers damaged computers and other equipment inside and threw documents onto the streets.
The party denounced the attack, saying that “criminal gangs” from inside and outside Tunisia are trying to “seed chaos and destruction in the service of an agenda aimed at harming the Tunisian democratic process”.
Former president Moncef Marzouki called for political dialogue, saying in a Facebook video: “We made a huge leap backward tonight, we are back to dictatorship.”