Tunisian parliament approves cabinet reshuffle amid protests
TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s parliament on Tuesday approved a cabinet reshuffle that deepened the conflict between the prime minister and the president, as hundreds protested outside the heavily barricaded parliament against social inequalities and police abuse .
Riot police shot water cannons at protesters outside parliament earlier Tuesday, trying to quell the largest rally since protests began this month.
Hundreds of protesters marched from the Ettadhamen district of the capital Tunis, where young people clashed with police several nights this month, and were joined by hundreds more near parliament.
Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appointed 11 new ministers and said he hoped it would inject new blood into his government.
“Young people demonstrating in front of parliament remind us of our priorities. Their protests are legitimate and the government will listen to angry young people, ”he said.
But President Kais Saied said on Monday he would reject the cabinet reshuffle, condemned the lack of women among new ministers and said some new cabinet members may have conflicts of interest.
Saied, who appointed Mechichi last year but challenged some of his decisions, said he would not swear in any minister suspected of corruption.
Police blocked the march with barricades to prevent protesters from approaching the parliament building where lawmakers were debating the government reshuffle.
“The government which only uses the police to protect itself from the people – it no longer has legitimacy,” said unemployed protester Salem Ben Saleh.
Police later also blocked Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the wide tree-lined boulevard that houses the Interior Ministry and where large protests have traditionally taken place, as protesters attempted to gather there.
ARAB SPRING ANNIVERSARY
Protests erupted earlier this month on the 10th anniversary of the 2011 Tunisian revolution that inspired this Arab Spring and brought democracy to the North African country.
Political paralysis and economic decline embittered many Tunisians over the fruits of the uprising.
The political stalemate in Tunisia since the 2019 elections has hampered efforts to resolve persistent economic problems, with foreign lenders and the main union demanding reforms.
Last year, as the global coronavirus pandemic struck, the Tunisian economy contracted by more than 8%. The budget deficit exceeded 12% of gross domestic product, bringing public debt to over 90% of GDP.
Nightly clashes between young people and the police were accompanied by increasingly frequent protests during the day in which protesters chanted slogans such as: “The people want the fall of the regime” – echoing the spring uprisings Arab.
On Tuesday, with great anger at the death on Monday of a young man whose family said he was hit by a tear gas canister, protesters chanted against the security forces.
In Sbeitla, the hometown of Haykel Rachdi, who was buried on Tuesday, mourners then clashed with police, witnesses said.
As parliamentary debate over the reshuffle halted, some opposition lawmakers left parliament to join the protest outside.
“Mechichi turned this into a police state. … No work, no development, no investment… just the police against the people, ”said Imed, another protester who refused to give his last name.
Reporting by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney