Tunisia opposition says it will hold new protest over arrests on March 5

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A Tunisian protest coalition said on Friday it would not stop working to unite the opposition against President Kais Saied despite the arrest of its top leaders, and added that it would hold a demonstration on March 5.

Tunisian police have cracked down this month against prominent critics of Saied, including senior figures in the National Salvation Front, an umbrella organization that brought together political parties and protest groups.

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Earlier on Friday police arrested Jawher Ben Mbarek, one of the movement’s leaders, his sister said.

“The detainees were brought to the public prosecutor’s office handcuffed and in humiliating conditions amid an intense and heavily armed presence of security agents,” the front said.

“The consultations aimed at unifying the democratic forces, for which the detainees were arrested, will not stop but will intensify,” it added.

The police and interior ministry have not made any comment on the wave of arrests this month that has targeted prominent politicians, protest leaders, media figures and others critical of Saied.

Protests against Saied have demanded that he step down and have accused him of a coup for shutting down parliament in 2021, moving to rule by decree and writing a new constitution that he passed last year in a referendum with low turnout.

Saied, who has said his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, has called his critics traitors and criminals and has said some of those arrested were behind food shortages that economists have blamed on weak state finances.

Salsabil Chellali, the Tunisia director at international monitoring group Human Rights Watch, said Saied was going after his critics “with utter abandon.”

“The message in these arrests is that if you dare to speak out, the president can have you arrested and publicly denounce you while his henchmen try to build up a file against you based on remarks you made or who you met,” he said in a statement.

France on Friday expressed “concern at the recent wave of arrests in Tunisia and calls on the Tunisian authorities to ensure respect for individual freedoms and public freedoms, in particular freedom of expression,” its Foreign Ministry said.

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