Tunisia’s president accused of ‘coup’ after sacking prime minister over Covid response

Tunisia was facing its biggest political crisis in a decade on Sunday night after the president dismissed the country’s prime minister following a day of protests against the ruling party, in what critics have described as a “coup.”

“We have taken these decisions… until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” said President Kais Saied as he announced that he was invoking the constitution to sack prime minister Hichem Mechichi and his government.

In the capital of Tunis, hundreds defied a coronavirus curfew to gather in the roads, waving the Tunisian flag and setting off fireworks to celebrate the prime minister’s dismissal.

“Finally some good decisions!” Maher, one of those on the streets, told AFP.

But the ruling Ennahda party and its supporters have claimed that the emergency suspension of the prime minister and parliament amounts to a coup.

“What Kais Saied is doing is a coup d’etat against the revolution and against the constitution, and the members of Ennahda and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” the party countered in a statement on Facebook.

The premier’s office had not responded to his sacking on Sunday night.

Earlier on Sunday, thousands of Tunisians took the streets to protest against the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party over failures to control the spread of coronavirus and a wider economic crisis.

Sunday’s upheaval poses the greatest challenge to Tunisia since its 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” and ousted an autocracy in favour of democratic rule.

Since Mr Saied was elected as Tunisia’s president in 2019, he has clashed with Mr Mechichi and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, blocking ministerial appointments and diverting resources from efforts to tackle Tunisia’s economic crisis.

The shock dismissal comes a week after the government sacked its health minister Faouzi Mehdi amid protests over a surge in Covid-19 infections and a lacklustre vaccination drive.

“We are navigating the most delicate moments in the history of Tunisia,” Mr Saied said Sunday, adding that he would shortly appoint an interim prime minister.

He said the constitution did not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but did allow him to suspend it, citing Article 80 which permits it in case of “imminent danger”.

In a later Facebook post, he clarified that the suspension would be for 30 days.

“I have taken the necessary decisions to save Tunisia, the state and the Tunisian people,” he added.

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