TUNISIA, March 4 (AP) Thousands marched in the Tunisian capital Saturday to denounce a growing crackdown on opposition voices and proposals to remove subsidies on food and other goods.
The march organized by Tunisia’s powerful central trade union was the latest challenge to Tunisian President Keith Said, whose leadership of the North African country is attracting growing international attention.
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Since taking office in October 2019, Saeed has consolidated his power, destroyed the country’s democratic gains and launched a crackdown on immigrants from elsewhere in Africa.
On Saturday, marchers chanted slogans against rising prices and food shortages, top concerns of most Tunisians.
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Negotiations with the International Monetary Fund over a deal to help finance the government have stalled amid political tensions.
The IMF has called for the removal of some subsidies and other reforms.
Tunisia’s trade union, known by its French acronym UGTT, accused the president of betraying promises made during reform talks.
UGTT was one of a “quartet” of groups that won the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to save Tunisia’s budding democracy from falling into civil war.
Saeed questioned the motives of Saturday’s march organizers and condemned the UGTT’s decision to invite foreign union leaders to the protest as “unacceptable”.
The secretary-general of the European Trade Union Confederation was declared persona non grata in Tunisia after taking part in demonstrations last month.
On Thursday, the Tunisian border police turned away a Spanish trade union leader.
“Tunisia is not a farm, meadow or land without an owner. Anyone who wants to demonstrate is free, but he does not have to invite foreigners to participate,” Saeed said on the eve of Saturday’s march.
UGTT secretary-general Noureddine Taboubi said he expected to hear a reassuring and unifying speech from the president, but instead heard only veiled insults.
“We are supporters of social peace and our weapon is argument. We are not promoters of violence and terrorism,” the union leader said.
Tabbi and other marchers expressed solidarity with government critics who are currently imprisoned.
Tunisian police have arrested a series of figures from the Islamic opposition, the media, the judiciary and the business community.
Said has become increasingly authoritarian since suspending parliament in 2021, a move welcomed by many Tunisians at the time in an effort to end a political deadlock that had worsened economic and social tensions.
Since then, Tunisia’s fiscal problems have intensified and its legacy as the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings has been fragmented.
Some protesters expressed support for sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia on Saturday, describing being stoned, racially insulted or evicted from their homes since the president called for a crackdown on foreigners.
Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea sent planes to evacuate their citizens as Tunisian authorities stepped up arrests of migrants. Some sub-Saharan Africans seek protection in tents camped in front of the UN migration office in Tunisia.
Meanwhile, Tunisian authorities banned another protest planned by the Islamic National Salvation Front on Sunday, calling it a “threat to public safety”.
In any case, Islamic leaders called on supporters to take to the streets. (Associated Press)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the body of content may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)