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Thousands of demonstrators carry flags and banners during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, September 26, 2021.  © Zoubeir Souissi, ReutersDemonstrators carry flags and banners during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied’s seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, September 26, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Thousands of Tunisians rallied in the capital on Sunday to protest against President Kais Saied’s recent steps to tighten his grip on power, labelling it “a coup d’état”.

Saied, who on July 25 sacked prime minister Hichem Mechichi, suspended parliament and granted himself judicial powers, on Wednesday also announced “exceptional measures” that allow him to rule by decree.

Protesters waving the Tunisian flag gathered Sunday outside the municipal theatre in Tunis, well before the demonstration’s scheduled 1100 GMT start, and shouted slogans in defence of the 2014 national charter.

“Constitution, freedom and national dignity,” chanted the mostly male demonstrators, also demanding “national unity against populism” and calling for the “end of the Kais Saied regime”.

Security forces were deployed in large numbers along Bourguiba Avenue, which runs through the heart of the capital, with armoured cars, police vans and metal barriers set up to control access to different areas.

The president made his power grab on July 25 after months of political stalemate and in the midst of the Covid pandemic, which further aggravated the country’s economic and social difficulties.

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Large crowds cheered his move at the time all over the country, but the mood was hostile at the smaller demonstration in Tunis on Sunday.

Some shouted “Get out, get out”, repeating the slogan of protests that started in December 2010 and culminated in the resignation of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14, 2011 after 24 years in power.

Around 20 global and Tunisian human rights groups on Saturday condemned Saied’s “power grab” and labelled it “a first step towards authoritarianism”.

Signatories to the statement included Amnesty International’s Tunisia section, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, and the Tunisian Network for Transitional Justice.

(AFP)/ FRANCE24

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