Tunisia’s main party, Ennahda, calls for dialogue to end crisis

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Tunis (dpa) – Tunisia’s largest political party, the Ennahda movement, on Tuesday urged the president to retract his decision to suspend parliament and called for a national dialogue to end the crisis and find solutions for pressing social and economic problems.

Ennahda considers that the exceptional measures taken by President Kais Saied “unconstitutional and represent a coup against the constitution and institutions,” the group said in a statement.

Saied sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament on Sunday, in sweeping measures that have been met with both protests and celebrations in the streets.

Military forces have deployed around the parliament and Cabinet buildings and banned anyone from getting inside, including Ennahda leader and Parliamentary Speaker Rached Ghannouchi.

Ennahda urged military and security institutions to stay away from political disputes.

It also called on Saied to retract his decisions and to adhere to the “democratic choice” of the people and allow the elected parliament to resume work.

Ennahda also acknowledged recent anti-government protests, where some have demanded the government resign and the parliament be dissolved.

The row among the politicians, along with economic turmoil and Covid-19, has fuelled growing unrest in the country often hailed as the lone bright spot to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.

Protesters had legitimate social, economic and political demands, Ennahda said. These issues are “an absolute priority” and a national dialogue is needed to help find solutions, it added.

The group’s statement is a shift from its earlier one urging to its supporters to protest outside parliament “to protect the revolution and people’s will.”

Calm prevailed around parliament on Tuesday, a day after scuffles erupted between Saied’s supporters and Ennahda followers.

The European Union, which has channelled billions of euros into Tunisia since its 2011 revolution, called on Tuesday for the blockade on parliament’s activities to be lifted.

“We will continue to watch the evolution of the situation attentively, considering the substantial support for Tunisia from the EU and its member states,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a written statement issued on behalf of the bloc.

Since Sunday, President Saied insisted that he is adhering to the constitution, dismissing accusations that he staged a coup.

Ousted prime minister, Mechichi, said he will hand over the office’s responsibilities to whoever is chosen by the president “to preserve the safety of all Tunisians.”

“I can never be a disruptive element or part of the problem that complicates the situation,” Mechichi added.

Mechichi took office in September and has been supported by the largest two parties in parliament, Ennahda and Qalb Tounes, who have also been at odds with the president.

Tension heightened between Mechichi and Saied earlier in the year when Mechichi dismissed an interior minister who was seen as close to Saied.

The president also objected to a Cabinet reshuffle by Mechichi that the parliament approved.

Tunisia’s political developments come amid deepening health and economic crises in the country.

Saied ordered the suspension of work in public institutions for two days starting on Tuesday. He also imposed a night-time curfew until August 27.

Tunisia has imposed several curfews and movement restrictions measures in recent months in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus, which left more than 18,800 dead during the course of the pandemic.