Tunisia bans opposition protest over ‘plots’

TUNIS (AFP): Tunisian authorities said Thursday they had banned a protest by the country’s main opposition coalition, arguing that senior members are suspected of crimes against the state.

Tunis prefect Kamel Feki said a request by the “so-called National Salvation Front” to hold a march on Sunday had “not been approved as some of its leaders are suspected of plotting against state security.”

Around 20 prominent political figures have been arrested in Tunisia this month, primarily rivals and critics of President Kais Saied.

The biggest wave of arrests since Saied sacked the government and froze parliament in a 2021 power grab has included several members of the Front and its main component, the Islamist-leaning Ennahdha party.

Two party figures, Sadok Chourou and Habib Ellouz, were arrested on Thursday, according to Tunisian media.

Ennahdha said the arrests were designed to “terrorize the opposition” and called on Tunisians to join the demonstration “en masse.”

The NSF had called for a protest on Sunday against “political arrests and violations against public and individual freedoms.”

Saied has accused those arrested, who include the head of a popular radio station, of “terrorism” and causing recurrent food shortages as well as plotting against the state.

Amnesty International has called the arrests a “politically motivated witch hunt.”

The prefecture’s statement did not mention another demonstration planned for Saturday by the powerful UGTT trade unions federation against Saied’s “one-man rule.”

The UGTT said Thursday however that a senior official from one of Spain’s main unions, who had planned to attend the protest, had been denied entry at Tunis airport.

“We have just learned with dismay that comrade Marco Perez Molina… has been banned from entering Tunisian territory,” it said.

The UGTT called it “a further violation of trade union rights and the basic principles of freedoms and human rights.”

It comes less than two weeks after Saied ordered Europe’s top union official Esther Lynch to leave the country after she gave a speech at a UGTT rally voicing solidarity with Tunisian workers.

The UGTT has been in a slowly brewing showdown with Saied since the arrest of one of its officials over a traffic workers’ strike.

Saied has accused unions of striking for political ends.