Tunisian protestors urge end to ‘autocratic rule’ and release of opposition leaders

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Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Tunis on Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of President Kais Saied’s seizure of power, calling for an end to “autocratic rule” and the immediate release of detained opposition leaders.

About 300 people gathered on the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue at a rally organized by the main opposition coalition Salvation Front, carrying placards saying “Freedom for political detainees” and “Down with the coup”.

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Elsewhere in the capital, hundreds of supporters of another opposition grouping, the Free Constitution Party, led by party leader Abir Moussi, gathered waving Tunisian flags and chanting: “poverty increased, hunger increased..” and “Saied Enough”.

Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down parliament before passing a new constitution that gives him near total authority.

In April, the authorities arrested opposition leader and Saied’s most prominent critic Rached Ghannouchi, 82, the former prime minister Ali Laryedh and other officials from Ghannouchi’s party.

Earlier in February, police detained about 20 prominent political leaders, including Salvation Front members, on charges of plotting against state security.

The opposition says Saied, elected in 2019, expanded his powers in a coup, but he has defended his actions saying they were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from the chaos and rampant corruption.

“Saied changed all law, all political system for the worse ... If there is an imminent danger, it is Kais Saied”, Abir Moussi told supporters.

Tunisia is in the midst of a severe economic crisis and needs external financial assistance to avoid defaulting on its debts, while Tunisians suffer from high costs of living and shortages of staples, such as sugar, semolina, oil, coffee and rice.

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