Tunisians call for Parliament to be dissolved in Republic Day protest

Demonstrators gathered in the capital Tunis and elsewhere to show their disapproval of the government

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Hundreds of people gathered in towns and cities in Tunisia on Sunday to protest their government, saying it was failing and corrupt.

Spurred by calls on Facebook for an uprising, demonstrators gathered by the Parliament in Tunis, demanding political change, jobs and economic reform.

“The people want to dissolve Parliament!” protesters shouted in the capital’s streets, under the scorching sun.

July 25 is Republic Day, which commemorates the vote to establish the Tunisian Republic in 1957.

The demonstrations are largely aimed at Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and the largest party in Parliament, Ennahda, who protesters say are responsible for a failing economy and a worsening healthcare crisis.

“We are fed up. We came out here today to hold accountable the people responsible for killing 20,000 Tunisians,” said Houda, 43, a public-sector employee, referring to the number of Tunisians who have died in the pandemic.

Since overthrowing the dictator Zine El Abedine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia has run through 13 governments. Scandal and incompetence have swept dozens of ministers from their posts in short order.

Last year, outsider president Kais Saied appointed a technocratic government that included Mr Mechichi. But since then, the two have fallen out.

President Saied has refused to swear in the Cabinet Mr Mechichi appointed in a reshuffle in January, so much of the administration is run by interim ministers.

The governing crisis extends to the deadlocked Parliament, in which shouting matches and even fist fights have become common.

“Young people have come to understand how serious is the situation in this country,” said Elyes Mhamdi, 34, who was at the protest in Tunis.

“The government and parliament of our beautiful country want to kill us one after the other while they remain in power.”

Ire towards the Islamist Ennahda party, which many young people view as a threat to liberal values, was particularly fierce.

Videos on social media appear to show protesters attacking Ennahda party offices throughout the country, with signs being ripped off buildings in Sousse and Sidi Bouzid.

In the oasis town of Tozeur, videos appear to show people burning documents and files pulled from the party’s local office.

Despite the widespread call on social media, the protests were modest.

Tunis and many other cities are in lockdown as the country battles its fourth wave of Covid-19.

All traffic circulation was halted in the capital for the weekend, and roadblocks were put in place around a central avenue and the Parliament.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds gathered outside the building, chased protesters down narrow alleyways and made several arrests.

Updated: July 26, 2021, 8:35 AM