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Tunisia shuts offices of opposition party Ennahdha — official

By AFP - Apr 19,2023 - Last updated at Apr 19,2023

A Tunisian security officer walks in front of the closed-down headquarters of the Ennahdha Party in Tunis, on Tuesday (AFP photo)

TUNIS — Tunisian authorities closed the offices of Islamist-inspired opposition party Ennahdha on Tuesday, a day after arresting its leader Rached Ghannouchi, a senior party official said.

"A police unit showed up at the party's main headquarters [in Tunis] and ordered everyone there to leave before closing it," Riadh Chaibi said.

"The police also closed the other offices of the party elsewhere in the country and prohibited any meeting in these premises," he told AFP.

The move came after Ghannouchi, 81, was arrested at his home in the capital Tunis, the latest in a string of opposition figures held. 

Ennahdha was the largest party in Tunisia's parliament before President Kais Saied dissolved the chamber in July 2021.

Since early February, authorities in the North African country have arrested more than 20 political opponents and personalities.

Saied, 65, claims those detained were "terrorists" involved in a "conspiracy against state security".

Ennahdha vice-president Mondher Lounissi said late Monday that Ghannouchi had been taken to a police barracks for questioning and that his lawyers had not been allowed to attend.

His arrest came after media reports in which he allegedly said Tunisia would be threatened with "civil war" if political Islam, from which his party originated, were eradicated in the country.

A source at the interior ministry quoted by Tunisian media confirmed that Ghannouchi’s arrest was linked to these statements.

Ghannouchi was the speaker of Tunisia’s parliament before Saied dissolved it and went on to seize wide-reaching powers through a series of moves opponents have dubbed a “coup”.

Opponents of Saied accuse him of reinstating autocratic rule in Tunisia, which was the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East region more than a decade ago.

After his dramatic power grab, he has ruled by decree, and last year rammed through a constitution that gave his office unlimited powers and neutered parliament.

 

EU expresses ‘great concern’ 

 

The European Union expressed “great concern” over Ghannouchi’s arrest and the closure of Ennahdha’s offices.

In a statement, it recalled the “importance of respect for the rights of the defence as well as the right to a fair trial”.

The 27-nation bloc also raised the “fundamental principle of political pluralism”, saying these elements were “essential for any democracy and form the basis of the European Union’s partnership with Tunisia”.

Human rights groups have criticised the arrests, which targeted leading figures of the National Salvation Front (FSN), the main opposition coalition, which includes Ennahdha.

“The arrest of the leader of the most important political party in the country, and who has always shown his commitment to peaceful political action, marks a new phase in the crisis,” FSN head Ahmed Nejib Chebbi told AFP late Monday. 

“This is blind revenge against opponents,” he added.

Ghannouchi appeared in court at the end of February on terror-related charges after being accused of calling police officers “tyrants”.

He had already been in court last November over allegations his party had helped extremists travel to Iraq and Syria.

Before that, he was interrogated over alleged money laundering in relation to foreign donations for an Ennahdha-linked charity.

Ghannouchi was exiled for more than two decades under late dictator Zine El Abidine Ali, but returned following the country’s 2011 uprising to become a dominant figure in Tunisian politics.

But his star has gradually faded, with his detractors accusing him of being a master pragmatist who would do anything to stay in power. 

While unable to gather an absolute majority, he has always managed to ensure that Ennahdha remained essential in the various coalitions since the uprising.

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