Security forces in Tunisia arrest two MPs from party opposed to president’s consolidation of power

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Tunisian security forces have arrested two MPs from an Islamist party opposed to a power grab by President Kais Saied, their party said Sunday.

Maher Zid and Mohamed Affes of Al-Karama have been placed in provisional detention in connection with a military investigation, party head Seifeddine Makhlouf wrote on Facebook.

Al-Karama is allied to the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, the main opponent of the president.

Their arrest late Saturday came a day after the detention of an independent MP, Yassine Ayari.

Ayari was arrested after branding Saied's decision last Sunday to suspend parliament and sack the prime minister and other top officials a "military coup".

Tunisia's military court said he was arrested pursuant to a two-month prison sentence passed in late 2018 for criticising the army.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern over his arrest.

Affes is a former ultra-conservative cleric and Zid is a former journalist and blogger sentenced to two years in jail for insulting late president Beji Caid Essebsi.

Makhlouf, a lawyer critical of the president, said he himself, Zid and Affes were wanted for having allegedly insulted police officers in March who prevented a woman from boarding a plane at Tunis airport.

The prosecutor's office was not immediately available for comment, and the military court has not provided details.

Saied: 'Nothing to fear' over human rights in Tunisia

The arrests came as the United States called on Tunisia to return swiftly to its "democratic path".

A week after his shock move, Saied has yet to name a new prime minister.

He has dismissed accusations he staged a "coup" and said he acted within the constitution, which allows the head of state to take unspecified exceptional measures in the event of an "imminent threat".

He has also declared a crackdown on corruption, accusing 460 businessmen of embezzlement.

On Friday, he stressed he "hates dictatorship" and that there was "nothing to fear" concerning freedoms and rights in Tunisia.

But political commentator Slaheddine Jourchi said the recent arrests were "a strategic mistake" and "not consistent with the president's statements".

"Everyone expected him to begin with the dangerous corruption cases and with waging a direct battle against known parties, but these first arrests were of opponents," he told AFP.

The Harak party of former president and activist Moncef Marzouki expressed its "deep concern" and criticised what it said was a "slide towards a settling of political scores and repression of freedoms, contrary to the assurances provided by the head of state".

Harak is not a parliamentary ally of Ennahdha.