The Tunisian president suspended parliament, lifted the immunities of all deputies and deposed Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi.
Tunisian President Announces Suspension of Tunisian Parliament and Dismissal of Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi violent protests erupted in several Tunisian cities due to the government’s management of the COVID pandemic and the economy.
President Kais Saied said on Sunday that he will assume executive authority with the help of a new prime minister, which has posed the biggest challenge of a 2014 constitution that divides powers between president, prime minister and parliament.
“Many people have been deceived by the hypocrisy, betrayal and theft of people’s rights,” he said in a statement carried on state media.
The statement followed an emergency meeting at his palace after thousands of Tunisians marched in several cities.
“I warn anyone who thinks of resorting to weapons … and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.
He said in his statement that his actions were in line with the constitution, and also suspended the immunity of members of parliament.
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi has accused President Saied of launching “a coup against the revolution and the constitution” after the move.
“We believe that the institutions are still standing and supporters of Ennahda and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” Ghannouchi, who heads Ennahda – the largest party in parliament – told Reuters by telephone.
Saied has been embroiled in political disputes with Prime Minister Mechichi for more than a year, as the country struggles with an economic crisis, an impending fiscal crisis and a flailing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saied and parliament were both elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last summer, replacing another short-lived government.
Tunisian journalist Rabeb Aloui told Al Jazeera that the decision came as no surprise, as Saied had threatened to dissolve parliament and dismiss the prime minister.
“Since last September we (have) been living under a political crisis,” Aloui said.
She said many young Tunisians, especially those protesting on Sunday, expressed joy at the announcement.
However, protesters had called for social and economic reforms, and these issues had to be addressed, Aloui added.
“We are really living under an economic crisis, with the health crisis also with the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Thousands of people protested
Thousands of people have defied virus restrictions and the scorching heat to demonstrate Sunday in the Tunisian capital and other cities. The largely young crowd shouted “Get out!” and slogans calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections.
Protests were called to mark the 64th anniversary of Tunisia’s independence by a new group called the July 25 Movement.
Security forces deployed in force, particularly in Tunisia where police blocks have blocked all roads leading to the capital’s main artery, Avenue Bourguiba. The avenue was a key site for the Tunisian revolution of a decade ago that overthrew a dictatorial regime and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
Police in riot gear stormed a rally on Friday, removing hundreds of protesters by truck.
On Sunday in Tunis, police used pepper spray against protesters who threw stones and shouted slogans demanding that Prime Minister Mechichi cease and parliament be dissolved.
Witnesses said protesters stormed or attempted to storm Ennahda’s offices in Monastir, Sfax, El Kef and Sousse, while in Touzeur they set fire to the party’s local headquarters.