Tunisia’s leader dissolves parliament after rogue session

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s president dissolved parliament Wednesday in the latest blow to the North African country’s young democracy.

President Kais Saied announced the decision in a televised address, after lawmakers led by the opposition Islamist party held a virtual session seeking to annul moves by the leader last year to assume sweeping powers.

Among those moves, Saied suspended the activities of parliament, which has not officially convened since July. Saied argued at the time that the country was facing “imminent peril” because of protests and economic crisis, and he has governed the country by decree ever since.

The moves tarnished Tunisia’s reputation as a model of democracy and pluralism in the Arab world. Tunisian protesters overthrew an autocrat in 2011 and unleashed uprisings across the region.

Parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist party Ennahdha, convened a special virtual parliament session to vote down Saied’s moves, with 116 out of 217 suspended legislators taking part. The party and other critics describe the president’s actions last year as an unconstitutional coup d’etat.

Saied denounced the parliament session as “illegal and illegitimate” and accused the lawmakers who took part of engaging in a “plot” against Tunisian security aimed at seeding societal division. He warned against political violence, threatened organizers with prosecution and announced he was dissolving parliament altogether.

“In these grave, delicate moments, duty and responsibility require us to protect the country from breaking apart,” he said.

Saied has promised a referendum on planned political reforms for July 25 — the anniversary of the day he assumed vast powers — and new legislative elections on Dec. 17.

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