Tunisia's main party decries "coup" as president suspends parliament and fires PM


Tunisia was plunged deeper into crisis as President Kais Saied suspended parliament and dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi late on Sunday, prompting the country's biggest political party to decry a "coup d'etat".

The move – a decade on from Tunisia's 2011 revolution, held up as the sole success story of the Arab spring – comes despite presidential powers being largely confined to security and diplomacy under a constitution that enshrines a parliamentary democracy.

It also comes after a prolonged period of deadlock between the president, prime minister and legislature, which has crippled management of a coronavirus crisis that has seen deaths surge to among the highest per capita rates in the world.

After Saied announced parliament's suspension following an emergency meeting at his palace, hundreds took to the streets of the capital in celebration, filling the air with the sound of car horns and fireworks.

"Finally some good decisions!" Maher, celebrating in Tunis' northwest in defiance of a coronavirus curfew, told AFP.

Before Saeid's announcement, thousands of Tunisians had marched in several cities protesting against the Islamist-inspired Ennahda, criticising the largest party in Tunisia's fractious government for failures in tackling the pandemic.

The party, which also has the most seats in Tunisia's parliament, was swift to rebuke the president.

It "is a coup d'etat against the revolution and against the constitution," the party countered in a statement on Facebook, warning that its members "will defend the revolution."

Party leader Rached Ghannouchi, who is also speaker of the legislature, was blocked along with several lawmakers from entering parliament by soldiers, according to a video on Ennahda's Facebook page.

Mechichi, the prime minister, had not responded to his sacking on Sunday night. In the 10 years since the revolution, Tunisia has had nine governments, some of which have lasted only a few months, hindering the reforms necessary to revamp its struggling economy and poor public services

Tunisia has recently been overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases, including more than 18,000 deaths. Last week, Mechichi fired his health minister over his handling of the pandemic as cases skyrocketed -- the latest in a string of health ministers to be sacked. (AFP)

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