Tunisian police summon opposition leader for questioning -party spokesperson

Islamist Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi gestures outside Judicial Pole of Counter-Terrorism after a Tunisian judge postponed a terrorism hearing against him in Tunis

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian police have summoned the head of the biggest opposition party for questioning, the party said, after arrests this month that targeted critics of President Kais Saied raised concerns over free speech and political rights.

Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist Ennahda party and speaker of an elected parliament that Saied formally dissolved last year, has been asked to present himself at a Tunis police station on Tuesday, said Ennahda spokesperson Zayneb Brahmi.

Police have not revealed the purpose of the investigation, Brahmi said at a news briefing.

Both the police and the Interior Ministry declined to comment on the matter.

Ghannouchi was questioned several times last year on suspicions of illicit funding for Ennahda, and of having helped send Tunisian jihadists to Syria in the past to support Islamic State militants.

Ghannouchi and Ennahda, which has played a leading role in successive coalition governments after Tunisia's 2011 revolution that brought democracy, have denied those accusations and judges had decided not to hold him in detention pending investigation.

Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down parliament and moving to rule by decree before rewriting the constitution in moves that his critics, including Ennahda, have denounced as an anti-democratic coup.

The president says his actions were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, and has described his foes as traitors, blaming them for Tunisia's economic and political woes.

This month, police arrested several major figures critical of Saied, including senior Ennahda politicians, the head of Tunisia's leading independent media platform, an influential businessman and two judges.

Saied last year moved to take ultimate authority over the judiciary, replacing the body that can appoint and sack judges.

While opposition to Saied remains fragmented, there have been increasing moves to solidify it over recent months, spurred by Tunisia's increasing economic problems and ultra low turnout in December and January elections for a new parliament.

The powerful UGTT labour union, which held major rallies on Saturday in several cities, has become increasingly vocal in opposing Saied and said on Monday it would bring forward a planned protest in the capital by one week to March 4.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Bernadette Baum)