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Tunisian President Sacks Premier, Suspends Parliament

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FILE - Tunisian President Kais Saied takes the oath of office in Tunis, Oct. 23, 2019.

Tunisian President Kais Saied has sacked the country's prime minister and suspended parliament, amid applause from some quarters and protests from others. The move came after weeks of political turbulence in the country, fueled in part by public anger over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saied supporters took to the streets late Sunday and early Monday, honking their car horns and cheering in the capital, Tunis, following his decision to sack Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspend all activities of parliament.

Saied announced his decision on state TV, following a meeting with his top advisors Sunday night.

The Tunisian president said that after consulting with the prime minister and parliament speaker and under authority granted to him by article 80 of the constitution, he had decided to suspend all activities of parliament, lift the immunity of all its members, and assume executive authority himself before naming a new prime minister.

Article 80 of the 2014 Tunisian constitution authorizes the president to "take necessary measures in the event of an imminent danger facing the institutions of state and its security and independence, preventing the normal workings of those bodies after consulting the prime minister and speaker of parliament."

Protesters face police officers during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, July 25, 2021. Rallies broke out Sunday in several Tunisian cities as protesters expressed anger at the deterioration of the country's health, economic and social situatiion.
Protesters face police officers during a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia, July 25, 2021. Rallies broke out Sunday in several Tunisian cities as protesters expressed anger at the deterioration of the country's health, economic and social situatiion.

Islamist parliament speaker Rached al Ghannouchi protested the move, marching to parliament headquarters overnight. There he told journalists he was unable to enter parliament because military forces were preventing him from entering and he warned officers that they must support the rights of the Tunisian people.

Several hundred supporters of Ghannouchi's Islamist Al Nahda Party joined him for a protest in front of parliament Monday, chanting slogans against the president. The Arab Spring slogan that the "people demand the downfall of the regime" could also be heard.

Tunisian authorities shut down a live broadcast of Qatar's al Jazeera TV alleging that its correspondent appeared to encourage the small crowd of protesters to chant against the government. The TV reported that its office in the Tunisian capital was also sealed shut and journalists were not being allowed to enter.

Tunisian analyst Bassam Turjouman told Saudi-owned al Arabiya TV that the situation in the country Monday was “perfectly normal” and that people in the capital were “going about their business as usual and that the authorities appeared to “have things under control."

Political analyst Amin Mustafa told VOA that "most Tunisians have been badly hurt by the ongoing economic crisis and high unemployment, so the issue of suspending parliament is not likely to arouse a strong negative reaction."

The influential Tunisian Federation of Labor declared Monday that it considers "all measures taken by the president to be legal."

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