Tunisia tries to reassure as Ennahdha pushes for snap elections | political news

Tunisia’s foreign minister called his colleagues in the European Union, as well as Turkey and the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reassure them after the president suspended parliament and fired the government, the ministry said late Tuesday, when the opposition called for elections.

Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi said he explained that the extraordinary measures were temporary and that his colleagues pledged their continued support for the fledgling democracy.

Earlier on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its confidence in Tunisia’s leadership, according to the Saudi state news agency (SPA).

“Saudi Arabia reaffirms its confidence in the Tunisian leadership to overcome these circumstances and achieve a decent life and prosperity for the fraternal Tunisian people.”

The country entered a crisis after President Kais Saied the government removed with the help of the military, an action that was condemned as a coup d’état by Tunisia’s main parties, including its largest political bloc, Ennahdha.

According to the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moroccan and Algerian foreign ministers Nasser Bourita and Ramtane Lamamra also met with Saied in Tunis on Tuesday.

Call for elections

Opponents of Saied have said they are ready for snap elections, while warning of an “autocratic regime”.

The Ennahdha party said it is “ready to go to snap parliamentary and presidential elections for the sake of the democratic path”, while warning “that postponement 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 its own “elected clique”.

Noureddine Bhiri, a senior Ennahdha leader, said the party had “decided to campaign peacefully to defeat the president’s plans”, saying “national solidarity” was needed.

But before elections are held, “Parliament must resume its activities and the military end its control,” Bhiri told the AFP news agency.

Police officers stand guard outside the parliament building in Tunis on Tuesday [Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

‘Organized criminals’

After violent clashes on Monday, Ennahdha said “organized criminals” were being used to “cause bloodshed and chaos”, and urged his supporters to “go home in the interest of maintaining the peace and security of our nation”.

The fledgling North African democracy of 12 million people, the cradle of the Arab Spring uprisings 10 years ago, fell into a constitutional crisis on Sunday.

Saied appeared on national television to declare that he had the prime minister fired, Hichem Mechichi and ordered the parliament to be closed for 30 days, after which army troops were sent 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-19 pandemic, leaving Tunisia one of the world’s highest official death tolls per capita has.

The president also said he would elect a new prime minister, lifted parliamentary immunity from lawmakers and warned the armed opposition would face a “rain of bullets”. He later fired the defense and justice ministers.

Street clashes broke out on Monday between his supporters and opponents outside the barricaded parliament, with several people injured.

Police also shut down the office of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, the parent company of Al Jazeera English, online.

The office of the Tunisian parliament chaired by Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi late Monday expressed its “absolute rejection and strong condemnation” of the president’s actions.

‘Principles of Democracy’

Many Tunisians have expressed support for the president and thousands flooded the streets on Sunday evening to celebrate, but others expressed fears of a return to dictatorship.

The French-language newspaper Le Quotidien wrote on Tuesday that Saied’s “shovel … in the parliamentary anthill has surprised many people, starting with Ennahdha”.

The fledgling democracy has often been cited as the single success story of the Arab Spring, the uproar in the region after Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate who could only find work as a fruit seller, set himself on fire in December 2010.

Tunisia, located between Algeria experiencing political turmoil and war-ravaged Libya, is seen as key to regional stability.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Saied by phone on Monday, urging him to “abide by the principles of democracy and human rights that are the foundation of governance in Tunisia”.

The top US diplomat urged Saied to “maintain an open dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people,” the State Department said.

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, on Tuesday called for “resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and abstention from all forms of violence”.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, the chair of the African Union Commission, called on Tuesday for “the strict observance of the Tunisian constitution… and the promotion of political dialogue”.

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