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Tunisia President Kais Saied accused of coup amid clashes

media captionTunisia: Key moments as political turmoil unfolds

Tunisia’s main political parties have accused the president of staging a coup after he sacked the prime minister and suspended parliament.

Kais Saied says he acted in accordance with the constitution.

The move followed Sunday’s violent mass protests over the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and the economic and social turmoil.

Late on Monday, dismissed PM Hichem Mechichi said he would hand his powers to whoever is appointed by Mr Saied.

In a statement, Mr Mechichi said he did not want to play the role of a “disruptive element”.

His comments came amid growing calls from the international community for restraint.

In a telephone call on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the Tunisian president to “maintain open dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people”, according to his office.

The UN said “all disputes… should be resolved through dialogue”, while the EU urged all sides involved to respect the rule of law and avoid violence.

There were similar appeals from the Arab League, Russia and Qatar.

Clashes among Mr Saied’s supporters and opponents continued on Monday in the capital Tunis.

They threw stones at each other outside the legislature, which has been barricaded by troops.

Mr Saied, an independent who was elected in 2019, has had a long-standing feud with Mr Mechichi, who has the backing of the largest party in parliament, the moderate Islamists Ennahda.

The president has also sacked the defence and justice ministers.

Tunisia’s revolution in 2011 is often held up as the sole success of the Arab Spring revolts across the region – but it has not led to stability economically or politically.

The recent spike in Covid cases has fuelled long-standing public frustration. The health minister was sacked last week after a bungled vaccination drive.

‘Until social peace returns’

On Sunday, thousands of people across Tunisia demonstrated against the PM and Ennahda.

The party’s local headquarters in the south-western city of Touzeur were set on fire.

In a televised address, Mr Saied said: “We have taken these decisions… until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state.”

He vowed to respond to further violence with military force.

In the early hours of Monday, the speaker of parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, who leads Ennahda, tried to get into the legislature. When he was blocked by Mr Saied’s supporters, he and his own loyalists staged a sit-down protest.

Later on Monday, Al-Jazeera TV, which has been viewed as sympathetic to Ennahda, said security forces had raided its offices in Tunis, unplugging all equipment and telling staff to leave.

image copyrightReuters

image captionProtesters erupted with celebrations on Sunday at the news that the prime minister had been dismissed

Acute power struggle

Analysis by Rana Jawad, BBC North Africa correspondent

To many, it feels like fresh hope after a year of chaotic governance – to others, a move that is constitutionally questionable, with potentially destabilising ramifications and far-reaching consequences.

The events are largely linked to an acute power struggle between the presidency, the PM and the speaker of parliament.

Was this a power grab by the president or a temporary move to get the country back on track? And will his political opponents mobilise their own support on the streets? If so, to what end?

Key to how all this plays out will be how quickly a new prime minister is appointed – and a new plan communicated on moving forward.

President Saied and Mr Mechichi have been in conflict for a long time.

Mr Saied has said he will now govern alongside a new PM, with parliament suspended for 30 days.

He cited the constitution as backing for his actions, but the legal framework is unclear.

As the largest party in parliament, Ennahda has the right to nominate the PM.

Covid flare-up

Coronavirus-related deaths reached a record for the country last week, passing 300 in one 24-hour period. Tunisia has one of the highest per capita death rates in the world.

Vaccinations have been slow: only 7% of the 11.7 million population are fully vaccinated.

The government recently attempted to speed up vaccination by opening it to all over-18s – but the effort descended into chaos, with stampedes, shortages of supplies, and incidents of violence.

image copyrightReuters

image captionThe health service is under serious strain dealing with surging Covid hospitalisations

Covid is only one factor in the unrest. Tunisia has had nine governments since the 2011 revolution, many of them short-lived or fractured.

Deep-rooted problems of unemployment and crumbling state infrastructure that were behind the uprising have never been resolved.

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