Tunisia’s Kais Saied rejects foreign interference after US concern over arrests

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Tunisia’s president on Thursday rejected “foreign interference and harm to the country’s sovereignty” after the United States raised concerns over a recent wave of arrests of his critics.

“We are able to diagnose our problems,” President Kais Saied said, adding whoever wants to help Tunisians should “return our looted money and drop the accumulated debts.”

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The United States on Wednesday said it was “deeply concerned” by the reported arrests of political figures, business leaders and journalists in Tunisia.

In recent days, Tunisian police have detained leading figures from opposition or critics of Saied, including prominent politicians, an influential businessman, the head of Tunisia’s main independent news outlet.

“Our sovereignty is above all considerations... we are not under colonization, we are an independent sovereign country,” Saied said in a meeting with his prime minister Najla Bouden.

Saied on Wednesday accused some of those detained of being responsible for price increases and food shortages in the north African country, and of wanting to fuel a social crisis.

The opposition has said the arrests aim to silence dissent, empower a slide towards autocracy and cover up Saied’s failure to manage the worsening social and economic crisis.

The arrests have raised fears of a wider crackdown on dissent and prompted the UN Human Rights Office to call for the immediate release of detainees.

Tunisians have for months been suffering shortages of food commodities that economic experts say are mainly caused by a crisis in public finances as the state attempts to avert bankruptcy while negotiating for an international bailout.

Last month, Moody’s ratings agency downgraded Tunisia’s debt, saying it would likely default on sovereign loans.

Saied shut down parliament, dismissed the government in July 2021 and moved to rule by decree, moves his critics called a coup.

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