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Tunisia: Protesters defy ban to rally against President Saied

Opposition activists lead rally, breaking through police barricade to march on central Tunis
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the opposition National Salvation Front, during in a demonstration in Tunis, Tunisia on 5 March 2023 (AFP)
Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the opposition National Salvation Front, during a demonstration in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on 5 March 2023 (AFP)

Demonstrators in Tunisia defied an official protest ban to rally against President Kais Saied in the capital on Sunday. 

Hundreds took the streets of Tunis, breaking through a police barrier to reach Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the city centre, holding up national flags and posters of recently arrested figures.

Police warned the protesters that their march was not legal, but did not stop them from advancing on the central street where recent anti-government rallies have taken place. 

"We are here again despite the campaign of arrests targeting opposition figures. We will continue to resist, to release the detainees but also to confront the coup," Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the leader of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition, said during the protest. 

Images shared online showed Chebbi, 78, and other opposition figures being confronted by security forces.

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In an extensive interview with Middle East Eye earlier this week, Chebbi condemned recent political arrests and the targeting of African communities living in Tunisia. 

Crackdown on critics

Tunisia has been engulfed in political and economic crises since July 2021, when Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government in what many have called a "constitutional coup"

He subsequently ruled by decree, before pushing through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

In recent weeks, authorities have detained several government critics, including politicians, journalists and trade union figures. 

"Those who believe in putting the honourable Tunisian national civil figure in prison for no reason or justification will be held accountable," Chebbi told MEE. 

Tunisian opposition leader calls for united front against Saied's one-man rule
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Last week, Saied published comments about migrants from other African countries that were widely denounced as "racist" and conspiratorial. 

Almsot 300 people returned from Tunisia to Mali and Ivory Coast on Saturday on repatriation flights, fearful of a wave of violence instigated by Saied's tirade.

"Tunisia is experiencing a tragedy when it comes to its relations with African countries," Chebbi said. 

"Everything we built in Africa has collapsed, and I am personally ashamed that a country like ours has acted like this towards our brothers."

On Saturday, thousands demonstrated in Tunis as part of a major protest organised by the powerful UGTT labour union. 

"We will continue to defend freedoms and rights, whatever the cost. We do not fear prisons or arrests," UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi told the crowds.

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