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Hundreds take to streets in Tunisia as vote on new constitution sparks fears of return to dictatorship

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Hamma al-Hammami, an activist and former political prisoner, confronts with police during a protest against the President Kais Saied's upcoming referendum on a new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia on Friday. Photo: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Hamma al-Hammami, an activist and former political prisoner, confronts with police during a protest against the President Kais Saied's upcoming referendum on a new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia on Friday. Photo: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Hamma al-Hammami, an activist and former political prisoner, confronts with police during a protest against the President Kais Saied's upcoming referendum on a new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia on Friday. Photo: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters

Hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets to protest against a controversial referendum that has sparked fears the country is on the cusp of becoming a dictatorship again.

President Kais Saied, who ousted the government in a coup a year ago, is holding a vote today on a new constitution that would hand him almost full control of the African country’s institutions.

It would also give him the power to dissolve parliament or extend his tenure if he deems there is an “imminent danger” to the state.

His mandate would be so expansive that even the constitution’s lead drafter, selected by Mr Saied, has said it would lead to a “disgraceful dictatorial regime” if passed.

Critics have urged Tunisians to boycott the referendum, describing it as a ploy to advance Mr Saied’s agenda under the guise of a democratic vote.

“We call on Tunisians to boycott the referendum and not to participate in any way, because this legitimises it,” said Issam Chebbi, head of the centre-left Republican Party.

On Friday and Saturday, hundreds of protesters including leaders of political parties and civil society organisations marched through central Tunis chanting, “No to a dictator’s constitution”, and “Freedom, freedom... end the police state”.

Analysts say the president has stifled scrutiny of the document and manipulated the country’s election commission in the run-up to today’s vote.

Mr Saied, who is a 64-year-old former law professor, has been tightening his grip ever since he ousted the previous government and took over executive functions in July last year.

In the following months, he has shut down independent institutions, cracked down on protesters and the media, and hit his political opponents with travel bans and arrests.

In Sidi Hassine on the outskirts of Tunis, life is getting more expensive as food shortages grow increasingly commonplace. Nevertheless, many here support the president.

“The presidential system is good. I want the parliament abolished,” said 30-year-old tobacco seller Kamal Zaoui.

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Nearby, butcher Naceur Hammami (64) sat by his makeshift sheep pen.

“We support him. We love him and we want him to succeed,” he said.

“Life will get better here under Saied.”

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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