Hundreds protest in Tunis against president’s plan for constitution

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tunis on Sunday in a second day of protest against a constitutional referendum called by President Kais Saied that his opponents said would cement his hold on power.

The demonstration was organised by the Salvation Front, a coalition including the moderate Islamist Ennahda, the largest party in a Parliament that President Saied dissolved in March.

It followed a similar protest on Saturday called by the Free Constitutional Party over the referendum, and a strike on Thursday by a powerful labour union over government economic reform plans, which brought much of the country to a standstill.

The president’s supporters said he was standing up to elite forces whose bungling and corruption have condemned Tunisia to a decade of political paralysis and economic stagnation.

The head of the country’s constitution committee said on Saturday he will hand over the new draft of what he described as a democratic constitution to the president on Monday, ahead of a July 25 referendum.

The country’s main political parties said they will boycott the plebiscite. But opposition to President Saied remained fragmented, as shown by the separate demonstrations at the weekend.

On Sunday, protesters marched through central Tunis to Avenue Habib Bourguiba, watched by a heavy police presence.

“Saied must leave… The people on the streets are constantly against you Saied,” activist Chaima Issa told Reuters. “The UGTT (union) went on strike, and judges are protesting. Do you want to rule a people that reject you?”

Judges in Tunisia on Saturday extended their national strike for a third week in protest against a decision by President Saied to sack 57 judges on June 1.

The president accused them of corruption and protecting terrorists – charges that the Tunisian Judges’ Association said were mostly politically motivated. 

President Saied’s move heightened accusations at home and abroad that he has consolidated one-man rule after assuming executive powers last summer and setting aside the 2014 Constitution to rule by decree. -Reuters

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