Tunisian President Kais Saied announced a month-long curfew as he appeared to tighten his grip on power in the North African country a day after sacking the prime minister.
Tunisians will wake up on Tuesday with draconian restrictions, including a national curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. and a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public places.
The new restrictions, announced by presidential decree on Monday evening, prohibit the movement of people between cities outside of curfew periods, except for basic needs or for urgent health reasons.
It comes as sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi said on Monday evening that he would hand power over to the man chosen by the president, in his first comments since the shock.
“In order to preserve the security of all Tunisians, I declare that I align myself, as I always have, alongside our people, and declare that I will not hold any position or responsibility within the State. Mechichi said in a statement on Facebook.
Saied, an independent with no party behind him, on Sunday night invoked emergency powers under the constitution to sack Prime Minister Mechichi. He then sacked the justice and defense ministers and suspended parliament for 30 days. Saied vowed that any violent opposition would meet with force.
Saied’s actions have been denounced as a coup by the country’s main parties, including the Islamists. He rejected these allegations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone with the Tunisian leader, encouraging him “to adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights which are the basis of governance in Tunisia,” the porter said. -speaking of State Department Ned Price.
Blinken also asked Saied to “maintain an open dialogue with all political actors and the Tunisian people”.
Tunisia’s mismanagement of the pandemic has served as a lightning rod for long-standing popular discontent with parliamentary politics: Thousands of people have defied Covid-19 restrictions and scorching summer temperatures during protests that have sparked clashes with security forces in several cities on Sunday, ahead of Saied’s announcement.
More than 18,000 people in the country of 12 million people have died from the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, overwhelming crumbling public health services and crippling the vital tourism industry.
To date, only 7% of the population has been fully immunized, while more than 90% of the country’s intensive care beds are occupied, according to figures from the Ministry of Health. Videos have circulated on social media showing corpses left in the middle of services as mortuaries struggle to cope with the growing number of deaths.
Support for the president’s decision was shown when people took to the streets and called for the dissolution of parliament.
The powerful Tunisian General Labor Union, which played a key role in the 2011 uprising, said the president acted “in accordance” with the constitution to “prevent imminent danger and restore the normal functioning” of the state.
There was also strong support on social media, but the legality of the move remains uncertain. A constitutional teacher by training, Saied said he was acting within the law.
Observers are already warning, however, that the decision to invoke article 80 of the constitution, which allows the president to take “exceptional measures in the event of imminent danger”, effectively results in full executive power for an indefinite period. In addition to the dismissal of ministers and the suspension of Parliament for 30 days, the immunity of MPs has been lifted.
Rival groups clashed in front of the parliament building on Monday, throwing stones at each other and hurling insults, but the size of the protests was limited to hundreds, and no major incidents of violence were reported.
The army surrounded the parliament and the government palace, preventing members of parliament and state officials from entering the buildings, as well as the national television station. Al-Jazeera said police raided its Tunis office and expelled staff.
Large crowds quickly took to the streets to support his movements, reflecting anger against moderate Islamist Ennahda – the largest party in parliament – and the government over political paralysis, economic stagnation and the pandemic response. .
The economy shrank 8% last year. Tunisia has one of the highest Covid death rates in the region. On Monday, Tunisian hard currency bonds fell.
Rached Ghannouchi, speaker of parliament and head of Ennahda, who has played a role in successive coalition governments, condemned it as an attack on democracy and urged Tunisians to take to the streets in opposition.
“Kais Saied is dragging the country into disaster,” he told Turkish television.
Saied, who did not say when he would appoint a new prime minister or relinquish emergency powers, also ordered public administrations and foreign institutions to stop work for two days.
Although it has failed to ensure prosperity or good governance, Tunisia’s democratic experience since 2011 contrasts sharply with the plight of other countries where the Arab Spring uprisings ended in bloody repressions and a civil war.
Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.