Tunisians defy protest ban to demand release of Saied critics

TUNIS: Hundreds of Tunisians demonstrated on Sunday despite a ban on protests, demanding the release of more than 20 prominent opposition figures who have been arrested in recent weeks.

President Kais Saied sacked the government and froze parliament in a 2021 takeover, forcing sweeping changes to the political system of the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.

More than 20 political figures have been arrested in the North African country in recent weeks, including members of the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front (NSF) and its main component, the Islamist-leaning Ennahdha party.

“Free the detainees,” chanted the protesters, most of them NSF supporters, and many waved Tunisian flags and pictures of detainees, AFP journalists said.

The demonstrators condemned Saied’s seizure of power as a “coup” and defied a ban on demonstrations imposed by the authorities in Tunis.

Dozens initially gathered at a key bus and tram stop in central Tunis before storming police barricades before marching towards Habib Bourguiba Avenue, where the crowd soon swelled to more than 500, reporters said.

A police officer told protesters over a loudspeaker to leave the iconic avenue – the site of repeated protests – and head towards the Al Joumhouri party headquarters several kilometers away, saying: “Please, the march is prohibited”.

“National Cause”

Issam Chebbi, leader of the Al Joumhouri party, is among Saied opponents arrested in the raid launched in February.

Addressing the crowd, his brother Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, who heads the NSF, accused the arrests of being “arbitrary”.

Protester Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, 78, said: “We are defending a national cause and will not stop until democracy and institutions return.”

Other detainees include senior opposition figure Jawhar Ben Mbarek, businessman Kamel Eltaief, head of Tunisia’s most popular radio station Mosaique FM, Noureddine Boutar, and union officials.

Mbarek’s father, Ezzedine Hazgui, who was imprisoned under the dictatorship of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, attended the rally and in comments to AFP denounced Saied.

“The President has placed all state institutions under his control and divided the people. The police are protecting an illegitimate president,” Hazgui said.

Saied accused those arrested of “terrorism” and causing recurring food shortages, as well as conspiring against the state.

The human rights organization Amnesty International has described the arrests as a “politically motivated witch hunt”.

The NSF had called for the demonstration, which came a day after more than 3,000 took part in a rally in Tunis organized by the powerful union UGTT.

During that rally, UGTT boss Noureddine Taboubi accused Saied of targeting the union as part of a broader crackdown on critics and urged him to accept a “dialogue”. -AFP

https://www.thesundaily.my/world/tunisians-defy-protest-ban-to-demand-release-of-saied-critics-DH10710366 Tunisians defy protest ban to demand release of Saied critics

Russell Falcon

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