TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s president fired the country’s prime minister Sunday and froze parliament’s activities after violent demonstrations over the country’s pandemic and economic situation.
Protesters erupted with celebration in the streets of Tunis after the late-night announcement.
President Kais Saied also lifted the immunity of all parliament members and said he would name a new prime minister in the coming hours to bring calm to the country. He used a special constitutional measure allowing him to assume executive power and freeze parliament for an unspecified period of time until normal institutional workings can be restored.
“We have taken these decisions ... until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” he said in a televised address after an emergency security meeting following nationwide protests.
Thousands of people defied virus restrictions and scorching heat to demonstrate Sunday in the capital of Tunis and other cities. The largely young crowds shouted “Get out!” and slogans calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections.
The protests were called on the 64th anniversary of Tunisia’s independence by a new group called the July 25 Movement.
Security forces deployed in force, especially in Tunis where police blockades blocked all streets leading to the main artery of the capital, Avenue Bourguiba. The avenue was a key site for the Tunisian revolution a decade ago that brought down a dictatorial regime and unleashed the Arab Spring uprisings.
Police also deployed around the parliament, preventing demonstrators from accessing it.
Police used tear gas to disperse some demonstrators throwing projectiles at officers and made several arrests. Clashes also took place in several other towns, notably in Nabeul, Sousse, Kairouan, Sfax and Tozeur.
Protesters also stormed the offices of the Islamist movement Ennahdha, the dominant force in parliament. Videos circulating online showed smoke pouring out of the Ennahdha building. The attackers damaged computers and other equipment inside and threw documents onto the streets.
The party denounced the attack, saying that “criminal gangs” from inside and outside Tunisia are trying to “seed chaos and destruction in the service of an agenda aimed at harming the Tunisian democratic process.”
On the coronavirus front, Tunisia has reimposed lockdowns and other virus restrictions because it’s facing one of Africa’s worst virus outbreaks.