Tunisia's president sacks defence minister: presidency

Tunisia's president sacks defence minister: presidency
2 min read
A statement from the presidency announced the dismissals of Defence Minister Ibrahim Bartaji and acting justice minister Hasna Ben Slimane, who is also government spokeswoman.
Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday sacked the defence minister and the acting justice minister [Getty]

Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday sacked the defence minister and the acting justice minister, a day after ousting the prime minister and suspending parliament.

A statement from the presidency announced the dismissals of Defence Minister Ibrahim Bartaji and acting justice minister Hasna Ben Slimane, who is also government spokeswoman.

The move came after street clashes erupted outside Tunisia's army-barricaded parliament, a day after Saied's "coup" plunged the young democracy into a constitutional crisis.

Saied sacked Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, a move the biggest political party Ennahdha decried as a "coup", following a day of angry street protests against the government's handling of the Covid pandemic.

Soldiers from early Monday blockaded the assembly in Tunis while, outside, the president's supporters hurled stones and insults at backers of Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, whose leader staged a sit-in to protest being barred entry to the complex.

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'Birth of a dictator'

In the 10 years since Tunisia's popular revolution toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the small country has had nine governments.

Some of them have lasted only a few months, hindering the reforms needed to revamp its struggling economy and poor public services.

Tunisia has recently been overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases which have raised the death toll to more than 18,000 in a nation of 12 million. 

Last week, Mechichi fired his health minister.

Sunday's political drama began with mass protests against the government for its failures in tackling the pandemic.

"The people want the dissolution of parliament," the crowd had chanted outside the legislature, while protests were also reported in Gafsa, Kairouan, Monastir, Sousse and Tozeur.

Several demonstrators were arrested and a journalist was wounded when protesters hurled stones and police fired tear gas canisters. 

A senior Ennahdha official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, alleged that the protests before Saied's announcement, and the subsequent celebrations, had all been choreographed by the president. 

"We are also capable of organising large demonstrations to show the number of Tunisians who are opposed to these decisions," the official warned.

After Saied's announcement, one jubilant supporter, Nahla, was brandishing a Tunisian flag and hailed the "courageous decisions", adding that "this is the president we love!"

But one man, aged in his forties, watched on without enthusiasm and said: "These fools are celebrating the birth of a new dictator."