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Tunisia investigates parties as political crisis simmers

·2 min read

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, July 28 (Reuters) - Tunisia's judiciary said on Wednesday it was investigating the two biggest parties in parliament, which have both accused the president of launching a coup after he cited emergency powers on Sunday to seize governing control and freeze parliament.

The judiciary, widely seen in Tunisia as independent from politics, said its investigation started 10 days before the president's moves, but it will add to the pressure on the parties - the moderate Islamist Ennahda and Heart of Tunisia.

The parties were not immediately available for comment on the probe.

A decade after it ended autocratic rule through a 2011 revolution that prompted the Arab Spring, Tunisia faces the sternest test yet to its democratic system.

President Kais Saied has not yet appointed a new prime minister or spelled out how he will handle the situation during the 30-day period that he has frozen parliament.

Though Ennahda called on Sunday for supporters to come out on the streets against Saied's actions, it has since called for calm and sought national dialogue to get through the crisis.

There was little sign of political tensions across the country on Wednesday, with no protests or other disturbances though a heavier security presence was in place in central Tunis.

The army remains at the parliament, government and television station buildings it surrounded on Sunday.

Saied has reiterated a long-standing rule banning gatherings of more than three people in public streets, but there was no sign it was being enforced as people moved and gathered normally.

Saied has also tightened some existing COVID-19 restrictions including a nightly curfew and ban on travel between cities.

Tunisian civil society organisations that have played a key role in politics since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy have not denounced Saied's moves but have called on him to quickly lay out his plans and end the emergency period within a month.

Western governments have also conveyed to Saied that they are closely watching his adherence to maintaining the rule of law including freedom of press and judicial independence.

Late on Tuesday, Tunisia's foreign minister spoke to his Turkish, French, Italian, German and EU counterparts, and to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to reassure them that Saied's actions were temporary, the ministry said.

Though Ennahda and the smaller conservative Karama party remained united in calling Saied's moves a coup, senior officials in Heart of Tunisia and Attayar have publicly backed the president despite official party statements denouncing him.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)