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Tunisian president suspends parliament, dismisses prime minister

Thousands celebrate decision in street after nationwide protests against government failings and mishandling of coronavirus crisis

People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunis on July 25, 2021, after a day of nationwide protest. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)
People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunis on July 25, 2021, after a day of nationwide protest. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisian President Kais Saied announced Sunday the suspension of the country’s parliament and the dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi following a day of protests against the ruling party.

Car horns sounded after Saied made the announcement following an emergency meeting at his palace and thousands of people poured into streets to celebrate.

But Mechichi’s Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party slammed the decision as a “state coup against the revolution.”

“What Kais Saied is doing is a state coup against the revolution and against the constitution, and the members of Ennahdha and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” the party wrote in a statement on its Facebook page.

Earlier, thousands of Tunisians had marched in several cities protesting against the ruling party, criticizing what they said was government failures in the North African nation amid crippling coronavirus rates.

In the capital Tunis, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of parliament, shouting slogans against the ruling Ennahdha party and premier Mechichi.

People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government in Tunis on July 25, 2021, after a day of nationwide protest. (FETHI BELAID / AFP)

Protests were also reported in the towns of Gafsa, Kairouan, Monastir, Sousse and Tozeur.

“The people want the dissolution of parliament,” the crowd chanted.

Several protesters were arrested and a journalist was injured when the crowd hurled stones and police fired tear gas canisters, an AFP reporter said.

“The constitution does not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but it does allow for its work to be suspended,” the president said, citing Article 80 which permits such a measure in case of “imminent danger”.

Saied said he would take over executive power “with the help” of a government headed by a new chief appointed by the president himself.

He also said that the immunity would be lifted for parliamentary deputies.

Tunisia has been overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases, including more than 18,000 people who have died in a country of around 12 million.

Despite a decade passing since the 2011 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia remains prone to chronic political turmoil that has stymied efforts to revive crumbling public services.

A Tunisian police officer scuffles with protesters during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, July 25, 2021. (AP/Hassene Dridi)

The country’s fractious political class has been unable to form lasting, effective governments.

Since Saied was elected president in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi.

Their rivalry has blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources away from tackling Tunisia’s many economic and social problems.

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