Tunisian troops surround the parliament, block speakers

Tunisian troops surrounded the country’s parliament and blocked its speakers from entering after the president suspended the legislature and fired the prime minister following nationwide protests over the country’s economic problems and the virus crisis.

Protesters celebrated President Kais Saied’s decision late Sunday night, but his critics accused him of using a force that threatens Tunisia’s young democracy.

Chief among them was Parliament spokesman and head of the Ennahdha movement, Rached Ghannouchi, who called it “a coup against the constitution and (the Arab Spring) revolution.” Ghannouchi led a sitting protest on Monday in front of the legislature, said a photographer from Agence France-Presse (AFP). Ghannouchi had tried to gain access at 03:00 (2:00 GMT), hours after Saied interrupted parliament.

Thousands of people braved virus restrictions and scorching heat to demonstrate Sunday in the capital, Tunis and other cities. The largely young crowds shouted “Go out!” and slogans that demand the dissolution of parliament and early elections. Conflicts broke out in many places.

Following the announcement of the president’s decision, army units were stationed around the capital and an Associated Press (AP) reporter saw military vehicles heading towards the parliament in nearby Bardo.

During the night, Ghannouchi tried to enter with an employee but was blocked according to Mosaique FM’s news radio. He insisted that Parliament continue to work despite the president’s move.

The president cited concerns about violence as a reason for his decision and warned of violations of public order and threatened troublemakers with severe sanctions.

“We have made these decisions … until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” he said in a military-style television address. He cited an article in the Tunisian constitution that allowed him to take “exceptional measures in the event of imminent danger that threatens the nation’s institutions and the country’s independence and impedes the regular functioning of public authorities.”

The measure allows him to take over the executive branch and freeze Parliament for an unspecified period of time until normal institutional activity can be restored. But Ghannouchi said the president did not consult with him and the prime minister, according to the article.

The three have been in conflict. Others also criticized the president’s decision. Former President Moncef Marzouki called for political dialogue and said in a Facebook video: “We took a big step back tonight, we are back to the dictatorship.”


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