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Tunisia’s Saied moves on economy and COVID-19 after the government sacked

  • Saied says his actions are constitutional
  • France is calling for a new prime minister and cabinet to be appointed quickly
  • Judicial investigations into political parties could complicate the crisis

TUNIS, July 28 (Reuters) – Tunisia’s President said Wednesday he was addressing the dire economic and COVID-19 situation and examining widespread corruption after calling the emergency services on Sunday to seek control of the government in to take what his enemies called a coup.

Balancing the moves, which included dismissing the prime minister and suspending parliament, on a swelling pandemic and mismanagement, Saied said he acted to save the country from corruption and conspiracies instigating civil war.

In Tunisia, public anger had grown over the political paralysis that had halted any coherent response to the pandemic and after years of economic hardship and declining public services.

France said on Wednesday it was of the utmost importance that Saied quickly appoint a new prime minister and cabinet, while civil society groups, including the powerful union, said he had to put in place a roadmap for an exit from the crisis within a month.

A decade after a popular uprising ended autocratic rule, Tunisia is facing the toughest test of its democratic system yet, and Western countries that have welcomed its political transition have expressed concern.

Saied, who says his actions are constitutional but has not yet determined his next steps, has been urged by the United States to adhere to democratic principles. The presidency announced that he met security chiefs on Wednesday.

Backed by the army, Saied’s actions included a 30-day suspension of parliament. Opponents like the Islamist Ennahda party, the largest in parliament, accused him of seizing power.

On Wednesday, he replaced the chief of the television station after an incident in which two guests stated on a program with the latest news that they had been denied access to the building. Continue reading

The United States on Monday urged Tunisia to “carefully respect freedom of expression” after police raided a foreign news agency, but on Wednesday a New York Times reporter said police detained her for two hours while she was working in Tunis .

JUDICIAL INQUIRY

Late on Wednesday, the Presidency released a video showing Saied telling a trade union leader that “wrong economic decisions” caused major financial problems.

Tunisia is seeking a loan agreement from the International Monetary Fund to finance the projected budget deficit and debt repayment.

Said in the video urged traders to lower the prices of goods and warned them not to speculate or hoard. He also targeted businesspeople accused of corruption, saying that 460 people stole 13.5 billion dinars ($ 4.8 billion) in public funds.

The judiciary had previously stated that it was investigating the two largest parties in parliament, Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia, on suspicion of receiving foreign funds in the 2019 election campaign.

The judiciary, widely regarded as politically independent in Tunisia, said its investigation began 10 days before the president’s steps.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that has become the focal point of opposition to Saied’s seizure of power after its chairman, parliamentary speaker Rached Ghannouchi, accused him of the coup, denied any violations of the law.

The heart of Tunisia was unavailable for comment.

Although Ennahda called on Sunday to take to the streets against Saied’s actions, she has since called for calm and sought national dialogue.

There were no signs of protests or other unrest on Wednesday, although there was a stronger security presence in central Tunis. The army also remains in the parliament, government and television buildings that they surrounded on Sunday.

Saied reiterated a long-standing rule banning gatherings of more than three people in public, but there was no evidence that it was being enforced as people moved and gathered normally.

Saied has also tightened some existing COVID-19 restrictions, including a night curfew and a travel ban between cities.

On Wednesday, he ordered a pandemic response center to be set up to coordinate Tunisia’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, the presidency announced.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; Additional reporting from Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Writing by Angus McDowall and Tom Perry; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Alison Williams and Richard Pullin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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