Tunisians stage anti-Kais Saied protests as cost of living rises

Hundreds attend demonstrations against president organised by rival political groups

Supporters of Tunisia's Ennahda party wave national flags during a demonstration against President Kais Saied in Tunis on Saturday. AFP
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Two rival Tunisian opposition groups on Saturday staged one of the biggest days of protest so far against President Kais Saied as public anger grows over fuel and food shortages amid an economic crisis.

One march in the capital was organised by the National Salvation Front, a coalition of opposition parties including the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha that had dominated Tunisia's parliament, while the other was organised by Ennahdha's ideological rival, the secular Free Destourian Party (PDL).

Mr Saied dissolved the parliament in March, eight months after he suspended the legislature and sacked the government citing an “imminent threat” to the country.

Protesters at the National Salvation Front demonstration in central Tunis chanted, “Down, down”, “Revolution against dictator Kais” and “The coup will fall”.

Ali Laarayedh, Tunisia's former prime minister and a senior Ennahdha official, told AFP that the protest was an expression of “anger at the state of affairs under Kais Saied”.

“We are telling him to leave,” he said.

Mr Saied's actions were welcomed by some Tunisians tired of what they saw as a fractious and corrupt system established after the 2011 revolution that ousted late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

But a worsening economic situation, compounded by supply shortages in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, has agitated many in the North African country of 12 million.

If Mr Saied stays, “Tunisia will have no future”, Mr Laarayedh said, citing growing despair, poverty and unemployment.

The National Salvation Front and the PDL both plan to boycott a December vote to elect a new parliament, which will have reduced powers under a new constitution introduced by Mr Saied through a referendum held in July.

Souad, a pensioner in her 60s at the PDL's demonstration, said Mr Saied was “doing nothing, and things are only getting worse”.

Some of the protesters carried empty containers to symbolise the rising cost of water due to inflation, which hit 9.1 per cent in September.

About 1,500 people joined the Ennahdha-led demonstration, while nearly 1,000 attended the PDL protest, the interior ministry said.

Mr Saied has said he is working to “correct” economic troubles he had inherited from Tunisia's post-Ben Ali leadership.

The International Monetary Fund announced on Saturday it had reached a tentative agreement with the Tunisian government to unblock a $1.9 billion loan to alleviate the economic crisis.

Later on Saturday, protesters clashed with police in the capital for a second night over the death of a young man from injuries sustained during a police chase.

Riot police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds in the poor Ettadhamen and Intilka districts of Tunis, with protesters chanting slogans against the police and throwing stones at them.

The family of Malek Selimi, 24, told local media on Saturday that their son died after suffering a neck injury from a fall during a police chase at the end of August.

The protests began on Friday after his funeral. The Ministry of Interior did not comment on Selimi’s death.

— With reporting from agencies.

Updated: October 16, 2022, 7:26 AM