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Hundreds of Tunisian president's supporters protest against 'foreign interference'

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Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tunis on Sunday in support of President Kais Saied amid widespread criticism at home and abroad after a wave of arrests that included journalists, activists and lawyers.

Supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied carry flags and signs during a demonstration to show their support for him and to reject what they say is "foreign interference", in Tunis, May 19, 2024. Reuters/Jihed Abidellaoui

Hundreds of people demonstrated in Tunis on Sunday in support of President Kais Saied amid widespread criticism at home and abroad after a wave of arrests that included journalists, activists and lawyers.

The European Union, France and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern at the arrests and at a police raid on the headquarters of the bar association this month in which two lawyers critical of the president were detained.

Police this month arrested 10 people, including journalists, lawyers and officials of civil society groups, in what was described as crackdown by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which called on Tunisia to respect free speech and civil liberties.

Last week, lawyers went on strike, saying one of the two lawyers arrested in the bar association raid had been tortured, an allegation denied by the Interior Ministry.

Following international criticism, Saied last week asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to call in several ambassadors to protest at their countries' interference in Tunisia’s affairs.

On Habib Bourguiba Street, the capital's main boulevard, demonstrators carried pictures of Saied and banners urging the West to leave Tunisia alone.

Saied's supporters, most of whom arrived on buses from out of town, chanted: "The people want Kais Saied."

"We are here to support Saied ... We are against foreign intervention and traitors," said Ammar Hassen, 37.

"The West is moving their lobbies and traitors here to destabilize Tunisia", he added.

Saied, who came to power following free elections in 2019, shut down parliament two years later and began to rule by decree. He has repeatedly accused activists, civil society groups, and his opponents of being traitors.

Most opposition leaders have been in prison for months, including Abir Moussa, leader of the Free Constitutional Party, and Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist Ennahdha Party.

Reporting by Tunis Newsroom

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