Ousted Tunisian prime minister makes first public appearance since dismissal

Visit to anti-corruption body followed concerns about Hichem Mechichi's whereabouts

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 27, 2020 Tunisian Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi takes the oath of office during the country's new government swearing-in ceremony at the Carthage Palace outside the capital Tunis, on February 27, 2020, following a confidence vote by parliament.  Hichem Mechichi, who until now has served as Tunisia's interior minister, has been appointed to form the next government, the president's office said on July 25, 2020. The 46-year-old lawyer succeeds Elyes Fakhfakh, who resigned earlier this month -- but Mechichi was not one of the names proposed by the ruling political parties to President Kais Saied. / AFP / FETHI BELAID

Ousted Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Thursday made the first public appearance since his dismissal on July 25.

Mr Mechichi visited the offices of the nation's anti-corruption authority, known by its French acronym INLUCC, to declare assets he held during his time in office.

Officials said it was a routine procedure after completion of duties.

Wearing a suit and face mask, Mr Mechichi signed documents, photos on the INLUCC’s Facebook page showed.

In the 11 days since President Kais Saied dismissed the government, froze Parliament and assumed all executive powers, Mr Mechichi had not been seen in public.

On July 26, he accepted the dismissal and promised to assist in a “peaceful transfer of power”.

Mr Saied's opponents and constitutional lawyers have called the power grab an unlawful "coup".

Thursday's visit followed concerns about Mr Mechichi’s whereabouts, with Tunisian social media users posting under the hashtag #WhereIsMechichi.

Responding to claims that he was assaulted after refusing to step down, Tunisia’s National Commission for the Prevention of Torture said on Wednesday it was investigating and Mr Mechichi could not be reached for several days.

"The authority has approached some people close to the concerned person," the statement read. "It has also contacted him personally on his mobile phone, and was assured that it was in use, and sent a text message to him on the same phone, expressing its readiness to visit him if he wanted to, but did not receive a response to that, neither accepting nor rejecting."

It also called on the public to provide any information that could help the investigation.

Mr Mechichi appeared to reject the allegations of assault last week in an interview with a local news outlet, denying that he had been forced to resign.

Mr Saied’s decision to fire Mr Mechichi followed nationwide protests calling for the government’s dismissal. The demonstrations were fuelled by widespread discontent over the country's economic turmoil, political deadlock and health crisis in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Mechichi, a technocrat and former ally of Mr Saied, was appointed prime minister in September 2020 and was tasked with obtaining the confidence of parliament.

The pair later fell out after Mr Saied refused to approve a Cabinet reshuffle, saying the proposed ministers had conflicts of interest.

The subsequent political squabbling led to a stalemate that exacerbated widely-perceived governmental ineptitude as Tunisia struggled to control soaring Covid-19 infection rates amid a vicious fourth wave.

Updated: August 5th 2021, 4:03 PM