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Tunisia: Thousands protest against Kais Saied's power grab

An estimated 5,000 people march in Tunis, facing reported police intimidation, to denounce the president's alleged 'coup'
Tunisians raise national flags as thousands join a rally against the president in central Tunis on 10 October 2021 (AFP)

Thousands of Tunisians took to the streets of Tunis on Sunday to protest against President Kais Saied's power grab in recent months. 

Sunday marks the third weekend in a row in which protesters have rallied in Tunisia's capital either in support of or opposition to a string of actions made by the president since late July that critics have labelled a "coup". 

On 25 July, Saied sacked the prime minister, suspended parliament and granted himself judicial powers, a move he followed up in September with measures that effectively allow him to rule by decree. 

More than 5,000 marched on Sunday, according to AFP, despite a heavy police presence, checkpoints and security screenings of demonstrators. Local journalists claimed that the total number of people gathering would have been higher if not for restrictions by authorities.

Videos posted online showed masses of protesters waving Tunisian flags and chanting slogans, including "the people against the coup d'etat" and "raise your voice, the revolution is not dead". 

A picture of a man holding a sign stating "We are citizens, not insects" was widely shared on social media. 

Several protesters complained of police intimidation preventing them from moving forward, prompting calls of "the rally is blocked" and "shame on you," AFP reported. Riot police reportedly prevented demonstrators from entering Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis. 

Last Sunday, demonstrations were held in support of the president in Tunis, Sfax, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa and Monastir.

Saied claimed that 1.8 million of his followers had taken to the streets that day, but local media put the figure at between 5,000 and 10,000. 

A week earlier, thousands gathered in the capital under heavy police presence to protest against the president's seizure of governing powers. 

Journalists and lawmakers detained

In recent days, several legislators and journalists have been detained for criticising the president's actions.

On Wednesday, Tunisian political activist Jaouhar ben Mbarek said he was "besieged" by security forces in his home. Mbarek had backed calls for large protests and called on Saied to reverse his seizure of powers.

On the same day, police forces raided opposition channel Zitouna TV and confiscated its broadcasting equipment, its director told Middle East Eye, allegedly for having no permit to operate.

Several lawmakers have also been detained for speaking out, including MP and television journalist Abdellatif al-Alaoui and former minister Anwar Marouf.