Tunisia’s president has suspended parliament and dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in a move condemned as an attack on democracy by his rivals but which others greeted with celebrations on the streets.
President Kais Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister after violent protests broke out in several Tunisian cities over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.
It is the biggest challenge yet to a 2014 constitution that split powers between the president, prime minister and parliament.
“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people,” he said in a statement carried on state media.
“I warn any who think of resorting to weapons … and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.
He also suspended the immunity of members of parliament, insisting his actions were in line with the constitution.
The statement followed an emergency meeting at his palace after thousands of Tunisians marched in several cities, with much of the anger focused on the Ennahdha party, the biggest in parliament.
Tunisian Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi accused President Saied of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution” after the move.
“We consider the institutions to be still standing and supporters of Ennahdha and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” Ghannouchi, who heads Ennahdha, told the Reuters news agency by phone.
The party also condemned the president’s move as a “state coup against the revolution”.
“What Kais Saied is doing is a state coup against the revolution and against the constitution, and the members of Ennahdha and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution,” Ennahdha wrote in a statement on its Facebook page.
Saied has been enmeshed in political disputes with Prime Minister Mechichi for more than a year, as the country grapples with an economic crisis, and a flailing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Saied and the parliament were elected in separate popular votes in 2019, while Mechichi took office last year, replacing another short-lived government.
Tunis-based journalist Rabeb Aloui told Al Jazeera that Saied’s move did not come as a surprise, as he had threatened to dissolve parliament and sack the prime minister.