Tunisia: Thousands march against food prices and president's crackdown on critics

Thousands of people have marched through Tunisia's capital, protesting against an expanding crackdown on opposition voices and a proposed lifting of subsidies for food and other goods.

Saturday's march, organised by Tunisia's central trade union, was the latest challenge to President Kais Saied, whose leadership is prompting growing international concern.

Since taking office in October 2019, Mr Saied has dismantled the country's democratic gains and unleashed repression against migrants from elsewhere in Africa.

Marchers in Tunis chanted slogans against price increases and food shortages, the biggest concern for most Tunisians.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund on an agreement to help finance the government have stalled amid political tensions.

The IMF has called for the lifting of some subsidies and other reforms.

Mr Saied called the Tunisian General Labour Union's (UGTT) decision to invite foreign trade union leaders to the protest "unacceptable".

"Tunisia is not a farm, meadow or a land without a master. Whoever wants to demonstrate is free to do so, but he does not have to invite foreigners to participate," he said on the eve of Saturday's march.

UGTT secretary-general Noureddine Taboubi said he would have liked to hear a reassuring and unifying speech from the president, but instead heard only coded insults.

"We are supporters of social peace and our weapon is arguments. We are not promoters of violence and terrorism," the union leader said.

Meanwhile, there has been criticism of the president after he suspended a judge because he had not sent a suspect to

The Tunisian Judges Association said in a statement: "The Association warns of the great and unprecedented
pressures on the judiciary, after arrests and prosecutions that included political activists, judges, lawyers, trade unionists,
journalists and media professionals."

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Mr Saied has grown increasingly autocratic since he suspended parliament in 2021, a move that many Tunisians welcomed at the time as an effort to end political deadlock that had worsened economic and social tensions.

Since then, Tunisia's financial troubles have worsened, and the country's legacy as the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings is in tatters.