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Tunisia’s opposition to protest against president’s rule

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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Opposition parties and others angry at Tunisia’s economic crisis and the president’s increasingly authoritarian drift are planning to march through the capital on Saturday to mark 12 years since Tunisian protesters unleashed Arab Spring uprisings around the region.

The protest move comes after disastrous parliamentary elections last month in which just 11% of voters cast ballots. The elections are meant to replace and reshape a legislature that President Kais Saied dissolved in 2021. The second round has been set for Jan. 29.

It also comes as the country is going through a major economic crisis, with inflation and joblessness on the rise. Tunisians have been hit with soaring food prices and shortages of fuel and basic staples like sugar, vegetable oil and rice in recent months.

The head of the National Salvation Front, a coalition of five opposition parties including the popular Islamist opposition party Ennahdha, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, said tens of thousands of Tunisians are expected to take part in the protest march on the Habib Bourguiba avenue, the main artery of the capital and a key site for the revolution.

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The Interior ministry called on all groups authorized to organize demonstrations to respect the preset itinerary and timing and ensure that there’s no violence.

The ministry also urged protesters to respect restrictions and not to provoke clashes with security forces.

On Jan. 14, 2011, then President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was forced out of power, transforming the country into a budding democracy that inspired the Arab Spring. Ben Ali died in 2019.

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Saied, who was elected in 2019, has curbed the independence of the judiciary and weakened parliament’s powers.

In a referendum in July last year, Tunisians voters approved a constitution that hands broad executive powers to the president. Saied, who spearheaded the project and wrote the text himself, made full use of the mandate in September, changing the electoral law to diminish the role of political parties.

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In an apparent response to criticism, Saied on Friday paid a surprise visit to the Bourguiba avenue and went through the capital’s historic district, the medina. He called for caution against “intruders and renegades” who could mix with protesters to provoke clashes.

The Jan. 14 anniversary has been abolished as official commemoration date by Saied, who instead declared Dec. 17 as the “revolution day.”

Tunisia’s uprising began on Dec. 17, 2010, when a desperate fruit vendor set himself on fire, unleashing pent-up anger and frustration among his compatriots, who staged protests that spread nationwide and led to the revolution.

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