Tunisia: hundreds of opponents urge the president to "release the detainees"

"Freedom for prisoners"

Tunisia: hundreds of opponents urge the president to "release the detainees"

"Freedom for prisoners". Several hundred demonstrators gathered in the center of Tunis on Sunday to demand the release of more than 20 opponents of President Kais Saied, arrested in recent weeks in an unprecedented dragnet.

"Down with the coup. Freedom, freedom for the detainees," chanted supporters of the National Salvation Front (FSN), the main opposition coalition.

Defying a ban on demonstrations and police injunctions, they crossed security barriers after a stampede, to head towards Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the central artery of Tunis.

At the height of the demonstration, they were more than a thousand, according to AFP journalists.

This protest was organized the day after a march -- authorized -- by the large UGTT trade union center which mobilized more than 3,000 people to protest against the arrest of one of its members.

UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi also rejected the arrests of opponents and called on President Saied for "dialogue" and "democratic and peaceful changes".

"The arrests are part of an arbitrary policy. We are defending a national cause and we will not stop until democracy and institutions are restored", denounced in front of the crowd on Sunday Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, 78, president of the DSF.

Many demonstrators waved the Tunisian flag and photos of the detainees, including Mr. Chebbi's own brother, Issam, leader of the Republican Party (Al Joumhouri).

The FSN, whose known leader Jawhar Ben Mbarek, 55, is among the opponents arrested alongside the young activist Chaima Issa, had called for "a massive demonstration".

The father of Mr. Ben Mbarek, Ezzedine Hazgui, a former prisoner of the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-2011), denounced to AFP a "president (who) placed all the institutions in his hands and divided the people".

"The police are protecting an illegitimate and putschist president who has destroyed the state and is preventing us from exercising our right to demonstrate," he said.

The FSN coalition includes the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha, which for 10 years dominated the parliament dissolved by President Saied, whose several leaders have been arrested.

At the beginning of February, the authorities launched a raid against personalities including several former ministers, well-known businessmen like Kamel Eltaïef, and the director of Radio Mosaïque, the most listened to in Tunisia, Noureddine Boutar. The president called them "terrorists", accusing them of "conspiring against state security".

This wave of arrests, unprecedented since the coup by President Saied who has granted himself all powers since July 25, 2021, has been described by Amnesty International as a "politically motivated witch hunt".

Since the summer of 2021, NGOs and the main opposition parties have denounced an "authoritarian drift" in Tunisia, shaking the young democracy that emerged from the first revolt of the Arab Spring in 2011.

03/05/2023 12:51:57 -         Tunis (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP