Tunisia: President Dismisses PM Mechichi, Freezes Parliament

Government buildings in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia.

President Kais Saied removed Hicham Mechichi from his post as Tunisia's prime minister after violent protests. The ruling party is now accusing the president of a "coup."

Tunisia's President Kais Saied on Sunday said he would assume the country's executive authority after dismissing the prime minister.

The political escalation came after thousands of Tunisians took to the streets on Sunday in anti-government protests that turned violent.

What did the president say?

After announcing the dismissal of Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi, Saied said he would take over executive power "with the help" of a government headed by a new chief that he would appoint.

The president also announced freezing the Tunisian parliament for 30 days and suspending the immunity of all deputies.

Saied claims his move is permitted in case of "imminent danger" under Article 80 of the country's constitution.

"The constitution does not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but it does allow for its work to be suspended," Saied said.

What was the reaction in Tunisia?

Hundreds of Tunisians flooded the streets in celebration after Saied's announcement. Local media reported that military vehicles surrounded the parliament building as crowds cheered.

Although Saied insisted that his move was constitutional, Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi accused the president of launching "a coup against the revolution and constitution."

In a video posted by his moderate-Islamist Ennahda party, Ghannouchi called on Tunisians to take to the streets against the "coup."

What do protesters want?

Earlier on Sunday, thousands of demonstrators across Tunisia defied COVID-19 restrictions to protest against the ruling party and the prime minister. Crowds shouted, "Get out!" and called for the dissolution of parliament.

Police arrested several protesters and fired tear gas as the crowd hurled stones, according to the AFP news agency.

Protesters stormed the office of the Ennahdha party, which is aligned with Mechichi. There was a heavy security presence around the parliament.

"Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people," Saied said after the unrest.

"I warn any who think of resorting to weapons... and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets," he added.

How did the political situation escalate?

Tunisia has remained prone to political turmoil a decade after the 2011 revolution that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. 

Politicians have been unable to form lasting governments. Mechichi's government was the third Cabinet to come to power in less than a year. 

For over a year, Saied has been entangled in a political row with Mechichi and Ghannouchi as the North African country faces an economic crisis and struggles to mount an effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.

(AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)


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