US urges Tunisia’s Saied to return swiftly to ‘democratic path’

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In a phone call with Tunisian president, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan underscored the need for ‘rapidly forming a new government’, White House says.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has urged Tunisian President Kais Saied to outline a swift return to the “democratic path”, days after his shock seizure of governing powers, the White House said.

On July 25, Saied invoked a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic and poor governance to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, freeze parliament for 30 days and seize executive control. The move plunged Tunisia into political turmoil and was initially denounced as a coup by the main parties, including the largest parliamentary political bloc, Ennahdha – an allegation that Saied denied.

In an hour-long call on Saturday, Sullivan underscored to Saied the need for “rapidly forming a new government, led by a capable prime minister to stabilise Tunisia’s economy and confront the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ensuring the timely return of the elected parliament”, the White House National Security Council said in a statement.

Sullivan noted support for “Tunisian democracy based on fundamental rights, strong institutions and a commitment to the rule of law”, according to the statement.

There was no immediate statement by the Tunisian presidency following the call.

The turmoil in a country also beset by surging COVID-19 infections and a crippling economic crisis – marked by soaring inflation and high unemployment – has unnerved allies in Europe and the US. But a number of regional countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have affirmed their confidence in and support for Tunisia’s leadership.

On Friday, Tunisian authorities jailed an opposition lawmaker and briefly detained four members of Ennahdha, local media reported. The Ennahdha members were brought before investigating magistrates and accused of trying to incite violence outside the parliament building after Saied’s announcement last week, according to party official Riadh Chaidi.

The four were questioned but later released for lack of proof of violence, Chaidi told The Associated Press news agency.

Ennahdha has been a major player in Tunisian legislative elections since the country’s 2011 revolution, which inspired the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

Another four MPs had also been detained earlier on Friday, and a judge was placed under house arrest.

Saied, who has accused 460 businessmen of owing 13.5 billion dinars ($4.9bn ) to the state, pledged he would “not turn into a dictator” following the arrests.

“I know the constitutional texts very well, respect them and taught them and after all this time I will not turn into a dictator as some have said,” the presidency quoted the former law professor as saying.

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Al Jazeera and news agencies

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