Thousands protest against Tunisian president’s seizure of near total power


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Demonstrators on Saturday demanded Kais Saied step down as they marked the anniversary of 2011 revolution

Protesters march against the Tunisian president Kais Saied in Tunis on Saturday.
Protesters march against the Tunisian president, Kais Saied, in Tunis on Saturday. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Reuters in TunisSat 14 Jan 2023 13.07 GMT

Thousands of protesters in central Tunis have marched against the seizure of near total power by the Tunisian president, Kais Saied, demanding he step down as they marked the anniversary of a key date in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.

The central Habib Bourguiba avenue, the traditional site for major demonstrations, was crowded with thousands of protesters waving Tunisian flags, amid chants of “the people demand the fall of the regime”.

A heavy police presence remained outside the interior ministry building on the street, along with water cannon.

“Tunisia is going through the most dangerous time in its history. Saied took control of all authority and struck at democracy. The economy is collapsing. We will not be silent,” said Said Anouar Ali, a 34-year-old demonstrator.

Protesters had pushed past police and metal barricades to reach the avenue, defying initial efforts by the authorities to keep separate several parallel protests that had been called by different political parties and civil society organisations.

Protests on 14 January come 12 years to the day of the 2011 uprising.
Protests on 14 January come 12 years to the day of the 2011 uprising. Photograph: Mohamed Messara/EPA

“We were on Bourguiba in January 2011 when Saied was not present … today, he is closing Bourguiba to us. We will reach it whatever the price,” said Chaima Issa, an activist who took part in the 2011 revolution before the crowd pushed through the barriers.

Another major opposition political party, aligned with the pre-revolution autocracy, held a separate rally in central Tunis after it was banned from marching near the presidential palace in Carthage.

Saied shut down the elected parliament in 2021 and began to reshape the political system, but low turnout for December’s election of a new, mostly powerless, legislature revealed little public appetite for his changes.

A heavy police presence along the central Habib Bourguiba avenue.
A heavy police presence along the central Habib Bourguiba avenue. Photograph: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Meanwhile, the economy is failing, with staple goods disappearing from shelves, and the government has not yet been able to secure an international bailout with state finances facing bankruptcy.

The main political forces, including most parties and the labour union, oppose Saied’s project, with many of them calling it an anti-democratic coup.

However, they have failed to repair deep ideological and personal fissures that divided them for years rather than forming a united front.


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