TUNIS (Reuters) – Thousands of supporters of two rival Tunisian opposition groups held parallel protests against President Kais Saied on Saturday, denouncing his moves to consolidate his political power as public anger grows over fuel and food shortages.
The Islamist Ennahda party and the Free Constitutional Party have been bitter foes for years and though they remain opposed to each other, both are now most focused on combating the president, whom they accuse of an anti-democratic coup.
“Tunisia is bleeding. Saied is a failed dictator. He has set us back for many years. The game’s over. Get out,” said Henda Ben Ali, a 53-year-old unemployed woman who was taking part in the Free Constitutional Party protest.
Saied, who moved to rule by decree after shutting down parliament last year and expanding his powers with a new constitution passed in a July referendum, has said the measures were needed to save Tunisia from years of crisis.
Tunisians are meanwhile struggling to make ends meet as a crisis in state finances has contributed to shortages of subsidised goods including petrol, sugar and milk on top of years of economic malaise and entrenched unemployment.
The president, who has blamed hoarders and speculators for the shortages, appears to retain broad support among many Tunisians, but the growing hardships are causing frustration and increasing the flow of illegal migrants to Europe.
In the southern town of Zarzis this week, residents protested over the burial in unmarked graves of local people who had died in one of the many shipwrecks of migrants trying to reach Italy.
In the capital, Tunis, there have been some isolated clashes in poor districts between police and protesting youths, and there was a heavy police presence in the city on Saturday.
During Saturday’s Free Constitutional protest, thousands of people chanted “the people want the fall of the regime”, the slogan popularised during Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that introduced democracy and triggered the Arab Spring protests.
In another downtown district of Tunis, supporters of Ennahda and allied parties gathered in their thousands and began marching towards the site of their rally.