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Tunisia Parliament reshuffles Cabinet as protesters face off

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Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi. AFP

Tunisia Parliament reshuffles Cabinet as protesters face off

Hundreds of anti-government protesters faced off against riot police outside the Tunisian parliament on January 26 as lawmakers inside confirmed a cabinet reshuffle amid growing unrest.

Mired in a political and economic crisis worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, the North African country has been rocked by a wave of anger at a political class seen as obsessed with power struggles and disconnected from the suffering of ordinary people.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi told the assembly that by naming 11 new ministers to the interior, justice, health and other key portfolios, he aimed to create a “more effective” reform team.

He faced opposition from President Kais Saied, however, who said he was not consulted. Saied charged that one of the proposed ministers was involved in a corruption case and that three others were suspected of conflicts of interest.

Mechichi said the new cabinet would listen to the demands of the protesters.

Security forces have carried out mass arrests during more than a week of night-time riots and daytime protests against police repression, poverty, inequality and corruption.

Tunisia has often been praised as a rare success story for its democratic transition after the Arab Spring regional uprisings sparked by its 2011 revolution.

But many Tunisians are angered by a political class seen as disconnected from the suffering of the poor, amid high unemployment and spiralling prices.

“Poverty is growing, hunger is growing,” read one sign carried by the protesters, while another demanded “dignity and freedom for working-class neighbourhoods”.

The session came a day after protesters clashed with police in the town of Sbeitla, in Tunisia’s marginalised centre, after a young man hit by a tear gas canister last week died in hospital.

Some chanted slogans against the government and Ennahdha, the biggest party in parliament.

But police forces stopped demonstrators from gathering at the usual square in front of the parliament.

Tunisian Association of Democratic Women head Yosra Frawes said: “The politicians are producing the same strategies that until now have only led to failure.

“They must change their governance model or step down.”

Some lawmakers criticised the heavy security deployment around the assembly and called for further dialogue.

One complained of a vote held “under police siege” and said: “All that’s missing is to vote under the threat of the baton.”

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