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Hundreds of Tunisians protest against arrests of opposition figures

Hundreds protested in the Tunisian capital on Sunday for the release of about 20 opponents of President Kais Saied arrested since February.

Around 300 demonstrators from opposition parties waved Tunisian flags and carried signs with the images of detainees at the rally organised by the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, according to AFP journalists.

Since early February, authorities in the North African country have arrested more than 20 political opponents and personalities including politicians, former ministers, businessmen, trade unionists and the owner of Tunisia’s most popular radio station, Mosaique FM.

Local and international rights groups have criticised the arrests.

At Sunday’s rally, Samir Ben Amor, an official with the Al-Joumhouri (Republican) party, called for a “national dialogue in order to draw up a roadmap to save Tunisia and return to the democratic path”.

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Saied, who has seized almost total power since he froze parliament and sacked Tunisia’s government in July 2021, claims those arrested were “terrorists” involved in a “conspiracy against state security”.

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

British-based Amnesty International last month said authorities should release the detainees arrested on “unfounded accusations”.

The political situation in Tunisia comes alongside mounting debt and rising prices worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned last month that Tunisia urgently needs to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund, adding to dire European Union warnings about the country’s future.