Hundreds Protest In Tunisia To Demand Date For Presidential Elections

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Hundreds of protesters gathered in the Tunisian capital on Sunday to demand the release of imprisoned journalists, activists and opposition figures, and the setting of a date for fair presidential elections.

The protest comes amid an economic and political crisis and a wave of arrests targeting journalists, lawyers, activists and opponents.

Tunisian police stormed the building of the Deanship of Lawyers on Saturday and arrested Sonia Dahmani, a lawyer known for her fierce criticism of President Kais Saied. Two journalists were also arrested on the same day.

The Election Commission said earlier that the elections would be held on time, but with the president’s first term, which lasts for five years, drawing to a close, it has not so far announced a date.

Saied took office following free elections in 2019, but two years later seized additional powers when he shut down the elected parliament and moved to rule by decree.

He also assumed authority over the judiciary, a step that the opposition called a coup.

Saied has repeatedly criticized what he described as the opposition’s scramble for the presidency, saying they had boycotted the last round of parliamentary elections while focusing on the presidential vote.

The opposition said that the political climate is not currently suitable for holding elections amid restrictions on the press and the imprisonment of prominent opponents and activists.

They called on Sunday for a clean political climate for a vote that includes an end to restrictions on press and political freedoms.

“Today there is no climate for fair elections and there is no date… the authorities are repressing politicians, lawyers and journalists,” said Imed Khemiri, a senior official in the Ennahda party, a member of the Salvation Front, which is organizing the protest.

“The storming of the lawyers’ headquarters yesterday is a dangerous precedent that perpetuates the authoritarian regime,” he added.

Abir Moussa, one of the most prominent candidates, has been in prison for months, while Mondher Zanaidi announced his candidacy for a possible election from France, amid expectations that he would be arrested if he returned to Tunisia.

Saied, without specifying to whom he was referring, accused potential candidates of being traitors and seeking protection abroad.