TUNIS – Thousands of protesters demonstrated against Tunisian President Kais Saied in the capital on Friday, pointing to growing opposition to his seizure of power and suspension of parliament five months ago.
Called to coincide with the anniversary of the uprising that toppled autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali a decade ago, it was the first protest since Saied announced a long-awaited road map on Monday that keeps parliament suspended for another year.
The protesters began to gather in centre of Tunis, chanting “Freedom, freedom, the police state is over!”, and “The people want the removal of the president!”.
“It isn’t a road map to exit the crisis, but to perpetuate the crisis,” said Jawhar Ben Mubarak, a constitutional law expert and activist in “Citizens against the coup”, which has mobilised opposition to Saied.
Saied “abducted the country half a year ago and wants to abduct it for another year”, he said.
A number of Saied supporters gathered in nearby Habib Bourguiba Avenue, holding aloft Tunisian flags.
Security forces deployed heavily in the area.
The road map announced on Monday includes a constitutional referendum next July, to be followed by parliamentary elections at the end of 2022.
Parliament’s biggest party, the Islamist Ennahda, has rejected the suspension of parliament for another year.
Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, parliament speaker, said the only way out of the crisis was by the cancellation of exceptional measures declared by Saied.
The anniversary of the uprising had previously been marked on Jan. 14, the date when Ben Ali fled Tunisia, based on agreement among groups that took part in the uprising.
But Saied decided to change the date to Dec. 17, the date when fruit seller Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in Sidi Bouzid after an altercation with a policewoman about where he had put his cart, igniting the uprising.
Saied’s power grab had initially appeared to win broad support among Tunisians fed up with years of economic stagnation and political paralysis. But opposition to his stance has sharpened, including from political parties and other major domestic players that were initially supportive.