President Saied announced a series of other measures after he sacked PM Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament, including a nationwide curfew for one month and a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public places.

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appears in a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, on June 3, 2021.
Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appears in a news conference in Tunis, Tunisia, on June 3, 2021. (Reuters)

Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has announced that he would hand over his duties when the president appoints a new premier.

Dismissed Prime Minister Mechichi said on Monday he cannot be a disruptive element, and he will hand the responsibility to whomever the president chooses, in a step that may ease the North African country's tough political crisis.

Mechichi said he will not play an obstructive role in complicating the situation in Tunisia, adding that he is ready to serve the country from any location in a statement on his social media account.

Mechichi said he will continue to serve his country under all circumstances and will not take a position because he protects the security and rights of all Tunisians.

READ MORE: Clashes in Tunisia after President Saied fires PM, suspends parliament

Opponents cry foul

On Sunday, President Kais Saied announced that he has suspended the powers of the Tunisian parliament as well as its deputies’ immunity, dismissed Prime Minister Mechichi and said he would assume executive powers with a premier he would appoint.

Saied also declared himself attorney general.

He announced a series of other measures on Monday, including a nationwide curfew from 7 pm to 6 am (1800 GMT to 0500 GMT) for one month and a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public places. 

It "is a coup d'etat against the revolution and against the constitution," said Ennahdha, the lead party in Tunisia's fractious ruling coalition, warning its members "will defend the revolution".

The powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) which played a key role in the 2011 uprising, said the president had acted "in accordance" with the constitution to "prevent imminent danger and to restore the normal functioning" of the state.

Saied denied allegations that he was fomenting a coup d'etat.

Some demonstrators cheered the firings, shouting with joy and waving Tunisian flags.

But others accused the president of a power grab, and the country’s overseas allies expressed concern that it might be descending again into autocracy. In a move sure to fuel those worries, police raided the offices of broadcaster Al Jazeera and ordered it shut down.

READ MORE: Tunisian security forces storm Al Jazeera office in Tunis

Soldiers barred Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi and his deputies from entering parliament.

Saied said he had to fire the prime minister and suspend parliament because of concerns over public violence. He said he acted according to the law – but parliamentary speaker Ghannouchi said the president didn’t consult with him or the prime minister as required. The three have been in conflict.

“We have taken these decisions ... until social peace returns to Tunisia and until we save the state,” Saied said.

READ MORE: Where is Tunisian democracy headed? 

Political deadlock, economic crisis

Since January, the country has been in a political deadlock amid a dispute between Saied and Mechichi over a government reshuffle that the former rejected.

The country is also facing an economic crisis and a surge in coronavirus infections amid warnings of a possible collapse of the health care system.

The government recently announced cuts to food and fuel subsidies as it sought its fourth loan from the International Monetary Fund in a decade, further fuelling anger in impoverished regions.

READ MORE: A separation of powers lies at the heart of Tunisia's crisis

The pandemic has only compounded those problems, and the government recently reimposed lockdowns and other virus restrictions in the face of one of Africa’s worst outbreaks.

Tensions between the prime minister and president have been blamed for poor management of the virus, while a bungled vaccination drive led to the dismissal of the health minister this month.

To date, 7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, while more than 90 percent of the country’s intensive care unit beds are occupied, according to health ministry figures. Videos have circulated on social media showing bodies left in the middle of wards as morgues struggle to deal with growing deaths.

The biggest political party Ennadha has been a particular target, accused of focusing on its internal concerns instead of managing the virus.

READ MORE: Political parties decry Tunisia ‘coup’ as crowds celebrate on street

Source: TRTWorld and agencies