Tunisians protest against President Kais Saied on anniversary of revolution

Rallies mark 12 years since uprising forced Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country

Angry Tunisians call for President Kais Saied to step down

Tunisian demonstrators carry placards during a protest in central Tunis against their president on January 14, 2023.  - In July 2021, President Kais Saied sacked the government, froze parliament and seized far-reaching executive powers, later grabbing control of the judiciary -- moves opponents said aimed to install a new dictatorship in the birthplace of the Arab Spring uprisings.  (Photo by FETHI BELAID  /  AFP)
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Protesters in Tunisia's capital called for President Kais Saied to step down as they gathered on Saturday to mark the 12th anniversary of the toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Political parties and civic groups held rallies in areas leading to the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue and the Ministry of Interior in Tunis.

Protesters chanted “leave”, “the people want to bring down the regime” and “Kais must fall today.”

They managed to push their way on to the avenue despite police barricades at all main entrances and alleyways leading to the area.

The head of the Tunis district police division, Nabil Chatti, was seen urging protesters to stop pushing through the barriers and instructing police officers to keep calm to prevent the situation from escalating.

The protests come amid a major economic crisis, with many people struggling with inflation, shortages of fuel and basic staples, and rising unemployment.

Anger at Mr Saied has grown since he dismissed the government and suspended parliament in July 2021, citing a threat to the country.

He dissolved the parliament in March last year and drafted a new constitution that was passed by a referendum in June when 30 per cent of eligible voters took part.

Mr Saied's opponents accuse him of carrying out a coup, saying the new constitution gives the presidency more powers while weakening parliament.

“Similar to how we took major steps in our fight for equality, today we resume our fight for democracy,” said Chaima Issa, a member of the National Salvation Front grouping of political parties.

“The coup is no longer only political, it targeted the social and the economic and things cannot keep going this way,” she said, speaking to The National outside the Ministry of Interior.

“Most of the people here have voted for him [Kais Saied], I myself campaigned for him,” said Nawel Toumi, a lawyer taking part in the protest.

“We thought that he was capable of leading us through this phase of history but it turned out he’s here to destroy the state,” she said.

Tunisia's transition to democracy was widely hailed as the most successful out of a series of uprisings against autocratic regimes in the region in 2011. However, a failure to improve living conditions for the majority of Tunisians led to a growing disenchantment with the political class — a factor in the surprise victory for Mr Saied, a professor of constitutional law, in the 2019 presidential election.

Saturday's protest began breaking up at around 1pm. The Free Doustouri Party attempted to stage a march to the Carthage Palace, but this was prevented by the police. Party leader Abir Moussi said in a Facebook live-stream that some of its supporters had been arrested.

Updated: January 15, 2023, 8:10 AM