Tunisia’s president fires defence minister amid political upheaval
Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked the defence minister Monday, a day after ousting the prime minister and suspending parliament, plunging the young democracy into constitutional crisis in the midst of a pandemic.
Street clashes erupted Monday outside the army-barricaded parliament, after Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a “coup”.
Mechichi said he would hand power to the man chosen by the president, in his first comments since the shock move.
Saied declared on Sunday he had “taken the necessary decisions to save Tunisia, the state and the Tunisian people,” following street protests in multiple cities against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic in the North African country.
The president, who under the constitution controls the armed forces, warned his opponents against taking up arms, threatening that if anyone “fires a single bullet, our forces will respond with a rain of bullets”.
On Monday afternoon, the presidency announced the dismissals of Defence Minister Ibrahim Bartaji and Hasna Ben Slimane, the acting justice minister.
Soldiers from early Monday blockaded the assembly in Tunis while Saied backers hurled stones, bottles and insults at supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, whose leader was barred entry to the complex.
Troops also surrounded the office of Mechichi.
Later in the afternoon, the protests died down, with the presidency extending an overnight curfew in place to combat the coronavirus and banning gatherings of more than three people.
Saied’s dramatic move — a decade on from Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, often held up as the Arab Spring’s sole success story — comes even though the constitution enshrines a parliamentary democracy.
It “is a coup d’etat against the revolution and against the constitution,” said Ennahdha, the lead party in Tunisia’s fractious ruling coalition, warning its members “will defend the revolution”…..read more