Hundreds of President Kais Saied’s followers gathered in Tunis to demonstrate their support for him following a crackdown on opponents who were charged with treason and corruption, as well as to oppose what they see as international meddling.
“The people want the country to be cleansed!” they chanted in a key Tunis boulevard. Thousands of people have frequently attended the opposition’s numerous demonstrations against Saied, but his own followers have only sometimes demonstrated.
Saied, who was elected in 2019, seized most powers in 2021 by shutting down the elected parliament and replacing the government before moving to rule by decree and rewriting the constitution.
In recent weeks police have started to crack down on opposition groups that accuse him of a coup, detaining politicians, labour union figures, judges, a prominent businessman and the head of an independent radio station.
Saied has denied mounting a coup, saying his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from years of chaos, and has denounced his opponents as traitors, criminals and terrorists.
He has responded to expressions of concern at his moves by the United States and the European parliament by denouncing them as foreign interference and attacks on Tunisian sovereignty.
Some of the evidence presented against those arrested in recent weeks, and held in pre-trial detention on charges of conspiring against state security, was that they had met French or American diplomats.
“We support Saied in his campaign against the traitors and the corrupt, against those who ruined the country during the past decade and against external interference,” Lobna Souissi, one of the demonstrators, said.
“We want Saied to continue his war relentlessly,” she added.