Thousands of people gather for the Tunisian president demanding a change in the political system

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  • Rallies back Saied’s suspension of parliament
  • Critics called the president’s moves a coup
  • Saied wants to amend the democratic constitution

TUNIS, Oct 3 (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied rallied in the capital and other cities on Sunday to back his suspension of parliament and promises to change the political system, actions his critics call a coup.

The demonstration of at least 8,000 people in central Tunis was by far the largest since Saied took executive power in July – a show of support from his supporters that eclipsed two protests over the two weekends precedents against his actions.

Thousands of other Saied supporters gathered in Sfax, witnesses and local media said, while others gathered in Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa and Monastir.

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Opposition to his measures has also grown in recent weeks as most of the political establishment, the powerful trade union and foreign donors have spoken out against his suspension of parts of the constitution.

Saied frequently cited public support for his actions against the political elite and a power-sharing system between the president and parliament that he said thwarted the popular will.

Demonstrators waved Tunisian flags and held up signs against Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that is the largest in parliament and has acted as Saied’s main antagonist.

A chant called Ennahda leader and speaker of parliament Rached Ghannouchi, who urged the suspended chamber to resume its work, as an “assassin”. Read more

“We demand that Saied dissolve Ennahda and the political parties involved in corruption,” said Noura Bensalah, one of the protesters.

The president plunged Tunisia into a constitutional crisis in July by suspending the elected parliament, firing the prime minister and assuming executive power.

Last month he tossed aside much of the constitution to say he could pass laws by decree, casting doubt on Tunisia’s democratic gains since its 2011 revolution that sparked “Arab Spring” revolts in the Muslim world.

“A TRUE DEMOCRACY”

Saied’s intervention follows years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, compounded by an impoverishing lockdown last year, a slow-starting vaccination campaign and street protests.

Many Tunisians blame these evils on a corrupt and self-interested political elite, and they see Saied, an independent elected in 2019, as a champion of ordinary people.

Among his supporters, Saied’s intervention is widely seen as a long overdue reset of a democratic experiment that has derailed established interests.

“Saied is a clean president who has come to restore real democracy,” said Mongi Abdullah, a teacher from Mahdia who came to join the rally.

While opinion polls show Saied’s initiatives enjoy broad support, his long delay in declaring a timetable for ending the crisis has begun to cement opposition against him.

Most of the political elite and the powerful UGTT union say he needs to start consulting more widely if he plans to change the constitution, as he has indicated.

Although Sunday’s rally was organized by activists on social media, three smaller parties in parliament, including Achaab, backed it, saying the paralysis of the political system had forced Saied to intervene.

“Saied should appoint a government and start a dialogue to reform the electoral system and law, then hold a referendum,” said Mohamed Ammar, an independent MP participating in the protest.

Last week, Saied appointed a prime minister and urged her to quickly form a government, but after she takes on broader powers she is expected to have less influence than her predecessors.

Tunisian police on Sunday arrested a lawmaker and a TV presenter who have been prominent critics of Saied since his steps in July, their lawyer said. Police were not immediately available for comment. Read more

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Reporting by Tarek Amara; Written by Angus McDowall; Editing by Andrew Heavens

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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