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Saied Sacks Judges to Strengthen Strongman Grip

FILE PHOTO: Tunisian President Kais Saied after exit poll results were announced in a second round runoff of the presidential election in Tunis, October 13, 2019.

Tunisia's president dismissed 57 judges on Wednesday, accusing them of corruption and protecting terrorists. This judiciary purge comes as Saied continued to remake the political system to ensure what critics say is one-man rule.

TUNIS - First President Kais Saied went on Tv to announce he had "given opportunity after opportunity and warning after warning to the judiciary to purify itself..

After setting that stage, the official gazette just hours later published a decree announcing the dismissals of 57 members of Tunisia's judiciary.

One notable name on the "sacked" sheet was Bachir Akremi, whom some political activists accuse of being too close to the Islamist Ennahda party and of stopping cases against it. Ennahda and Akremi both deny that.

Another shown the door was Youssef Bouzaker, former head of the Supreme Judicial Council, whose members Saied replaced this year as he moved to take control of the judiciary.

The council had acted as the main guarantor of judicial independence since Tunisia's 2011 revolution that introduced democracy and Saied's changes prompted accusations he was interfering in the judicial process.

Saied last summer dismissed the government and seized executive power in a move his foes called a coup - before setting aside the 2014 constitution to rule by decree and dismissing the elected parliament.

He says his moves were needed to save Tunisia from "crisis" and his intervention initially appeared to have widespread public support after years of economic stagnation, political paralysis and corruption.

Saied, who has also replaced the independent electoral commission, has also said he will introduce a new constitution this month that he will put to a referendum next month.

The president's critics decry the hand-picked body Saied tasked to write the new governing document, which opponents say deliberately excludes outside voices from the constitutional process.

Nearly all of Tunisia's political parties have rejected the move along with the powerful UGTT labor union.