Tunisia's biggest party ready for elections, warns against "autocratic regime"


Opponents of Tunisia's President Kais Saied, who sparked a crisis by suspending parliament and sacking the premier, said on Tuesday that they were ready for early elections while warning against an "autocratic regime".

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which was the strongest group in the coalition government, has labelled Sunday's power grab a "coup d'etat" while the US, EU and other powers have also voiced strong concern.

Ennahdha on Tuesday said that, "for the sake of the democratic path," it is "ready to go to early legislative and presidential elections" while warning "that any delay is not used as a pretext to maintain an autocratic regime."

The party also accused Saied of having "worked with undemocratic forces to overturn the constitutional rights of elected officials, and replace them with members of his own chosen cabal".

Noureddine B'Hiri, a senior Ennahda leader, said the party had "decided to campaign peacefully to defeat" the president's plans, saying "national solidarity" was needed.

But before any elections, "parliament should resume its activities and the military end its control," said B'Hiri.

The Moroccan and Algerian foreign ministers, Nasser Bourita and Ramtane Lamamra, met Saied in Tunis on Tuesday, according to the Tunisian foreign ministry, which made no reference to the political crisis.

After violent clashes on Monday, Ennahdha said "organised thugs" were being used to "provoke bloodshed and chaos", and urged its supporters "to go home in the interests of maintaining the peace and security of our nation".

The young North African democracy of 12 million people, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings a decade ago, was thrust into a constitutional crisis on Sunday.

Saied appeared on national television to declare he had dismissed the premier, Hichem Mechichi, and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, later sending army troops to the legislature and the prime minister's office.

The president's actions, ostensibly "to save Tunisia", followed a day of street protests against the government's poor handling of the Covid pandemic, which has claimed one of the world's highest official per-capita death tolls in Tunisia.

The president also said he would pick a new prime minister, lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers, and warned armed opposition would be met with a "rain of bullets". He later fired the defence and justice ministers.

Street clashes between his backers and opponents broke out on Monday outside the barricaded parliament, leaving several people wounded.

Police also shuttered the TV station of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera.

The office of the Tunisian parliament, chaired by Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi, late on Monday voiced its "absolute rejection and strong condemnation" of the president's actions. (AFP)

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