Parliament begins heated session to approve a major cabinet reshuffle, as president slams line-up and tensions run high in North African country.

Tunisian police block protesters from accessing the parliament building on January 26, 2021, in Tunis.
Tunisian police block protesters from accessing the parliament building on January 26, 2021, in Tunis. (AFP)

Tunisians have protested outside their heavily guarded parliament as lawmakers voted on a new government, after a week of youth protests and riots over poverty and lack of jobs that left one young demonstrator dead and hundreds jailed.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi announced a government reshuffle last week in the midst of the unrest.

He promised on Tuesday that the new team would concentrate on deep reforms to create jobs and improve living conditions in the North African country, which has been mired in an economic crisis deepened by the coronavirus pandemic.

But four of his 11 proposed new Cabinet members are facing investigations or suspicions of corruption, which threatens to further undermine Tunisians' faith in a leadership accused of failing to live up to the promises of the country’s democratic revolution 10 years ago that unleashed the Arab Spring.

READ MORE: Hundreds protest in Tunisia over inequality, police brutality

March through Tunis

More than two dozen human rights and other groups called for a march on Tuesday afternoon through central Tunis to the parliament building to demand the release of hundreds of people arrested in this month’s unrest and denounce repressive measures by police.

Meanwhile, President Kais Saied said the government reshuffle is unconstitutional, because the prime minister didn't follow the procedures for informing the president first.

In a new sign of growing tensions between the two men, President Saied criticised the absence of women in the new line-up and said he had not been consulted. 

Without naming names, Saied also said on Monday that one of the proposed ministers was "involved in a corruption case" and that three others were suspected of having conflicts of interest.

The reshuffle came after the sacking of the interior minister earlier in January, and of former environment minister Mustapha Aroui, who was arrested in December in a scandal involving waste shipped from Italy.

Mechichi has said his aim is "greater efficiency in the work of the government."

READ MORE: Tunisia seeks to stem wave of night-time street riots

Vote 'under police siege'

The confidence vote is scheduled at the end of the day, with lawmakers voting on the new members of the government one-by-one.

Lawmakers criticised a heavy police deployment around the parliament building after calls for a rally there.

"A vote of confidence under police siege," one said. "All that's missing is to vote under the threat of the baton."

READ MORE: Young Tunisians clash with police on fourth consecutive night

Source: TRTWorld and agencies