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Thousands protest in Tunisia against president in major trade union rally

Powerful UGTT union takes to streets of Tunis, condemning Kais Saied's recent crackdown
Demonstrators lift placards and flags during an anti-government rally called by the UGTT labour union in Tunis, on 4 March 2023 (AFP)

Thousands took to the streets of Tunisia's capital as the country's powerful UGTT labour union held a major protest against President Kais Saied. 

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Demonstrators marched down Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis on Saturday, chanting slogans and holding up signs against Saied's power grab and recent crackdown on critics. 

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Tunisia has been engulfed in political and economic crises since July 2021, when Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government in what many have called a "constitutional coup". 

He subsequently ruled by decree, before pushing through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

"We will continue to defend freedoms and rights, whatever the cost. We do not fear prisons or arrests," UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi told the crowd.

In recent weeks, authorities have detained several government critics, including politicians, journalists and trade union figures. 

Anis Kaabi, a senior UGTT official for highway workers, was arrested last month after organising a strike by employees of tollbooth operations. 

Saied last month ordered the expulsion of Esther Lynch, Europe's top trade union official, over a speech his office called "blatant interference" in the country's internal affairs. 

'No to racism'

Protesters on Saturday held up banners that read "No to one-man rule" and "End the police state". 

Taboubi defended "the rights of migrants, regardless of their nationality or the colour of their skin". 

"Tunisia is a country of tolerance; no to racism," he told the protesters. 

Last week, Saied published comments against Black Africans in Tunisia that were widely denounced as "racist" and conspiratorial. 

MEE reported on Saturday that anti-migrant and anti-Black sentiments were being widely spread in Tunisia across Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

Some 300 West African migrants were set to leave Tunisia on repatriation flights on Saturday, fearful of a wave of violence instigated by Saied's tirade.

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