Tunisian opposition leader warns of social explosion

  • World
  • Thursday, 27 Jan 2022

FILE PHOTO: Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, poses during an interview with Reuters in his office, in Tunis, Tunisia, March 9, 2021. Picture taken March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo

TUNIS (Reuters) - The speaker of Tunisia's suspended parliament, who also heads the main opposition party, warned on Thursday of a social situation that "threatens to explode" six months after what he calls a coup by the president.

Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, said President Kais Saied's suspension of parliament, assumption of executive powers and move to rewrite the constitution had isolated Tunisia.

Ghannouchi was speaking in an online meeting of some parliament members, the first since Saied froze the chamber in July and a more assertive sign of defiance against the president.

Members from Ennahda, Heart of Tunisia and Karama parties, as well as at least one independent parliamentarian, attended. Several other parties boycotted the meeting.

"The coup led to stifling international isolation... price inflammation and a social situation that threatens to explode," Ghannouchi said.

The meeting was to mark the anniversary of the 2014 democratic constitution, which Saied says he will replace through a process that has started with an online consultation.

Tunisia faces a looming public finances crisis after years of stagnation but painful reforms needed to secure international assistance risk sparking social unrest. Unemployment is running at about 18%, up from 15% in 2019, but is far worse in Tunisia’s impoverished interior, where it exceeds 30% in some cities.

Anger over economic conditions has frequently boiled over into street protests or clashes between demonstrators and police during the decade since Tunisia's revolution.

Meanwhile, Saied has failed to attract bilateral help from foreign states, with donors demanding a more inclusive approach to both political change and economic reforms needed to win aid.

Saied has said there is no going back to the suspended parliament and said last month that he expected an election in December to replace the chamber.

The government he appointed in September has announced a public finance law that includes some of the reforms sought by donors, but which has been criticised by opposition parties.

(This story removes from paragraph 5 a reference to the "cessation of support from financial partners" wrongly sourced to Ghannouchi.)

(Reporting by Tarek Amara, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

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