The European Union on Tuesday stressed the need to preserve democracy and stability in Tunisia following Tunisian President Kais Saied’s suspension of parliament and firing of the country’s prime minister.
“We call for the restoration of institutional stability as soon as possible, and in particular for the resumption of parliamentary activity, respect for fundamental rights and an abstention from all forms of violence,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken to Saied by telephone and expressed “support for Tunisia’s democracy.”
“I encouraged President Saied to adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights that are the basis of governance in Tunisia and urged him to maintain open dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people,” Blinken tweeted.
Saied’s move late Sunday followed weeks of political turbulence in the country – fueled in part by public anger over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saied, a political independent, said he was acting in response to the country’s economic woes and political deadlock and added that the country’s constitution gave him that authority.
Rached Ghannouchi, the parliament speaker and head of the dominant Ennahdha party, called the president’s actions a “coup” and said the legislature would continue its work.
Two other main parties in parliament also called it a coup, which the president rejected.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is concerned about the situation. She told reporters the developments “come as Tunisian authorities are seeking to stabilize their economy, confront a resurgence in the COVID-19 pandemic, and improve living standards for all Tunisians.”
Saied’s announcement drew crowds of demonstrators into the streets of the capital, Tunis, and elsewhere to celebrate, reflecting people’s anger at parliament to address the country’s problems.
There were also protesters outside the parliament building who were against the president’s actions, and clashes took place between the opposing groups.
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 broadcaster reported that its office in the Tunisian capital was sealed shut and that journalists were not being allowed to enter.
Tunisia has struggled economically for years, and along with political challenges, it has dealt with a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths.
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.”
(Edward Yeranian in Cairo contributed to this report. Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, AFP and Reuters. )