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Tunisians Denounce Interior Minister's Claims

FILE: People take part in a protest against president Kais Saied policies, in Tunis, Tunisia, Sunday, March 5, 2023. Thousands of people marched through Tunisia's capital Saturday, decrying an expanding crackdown on opposition voices.

TUNIS - Tunisian civil society groups on Wednesday accused the interior minister of incitement after he said some journalists, activists, politicians, business people and union members were traitors.

Interior Minister Toufik Charfeddine said on Tuesday that "journalists are mercenaries and traitors ... businessmen, trade unionists and parties have sold the country and allied themselves against the Tunisian people ... they are traitors".

The organizations mounting the protest include Tunisia's main labor union, the UGTT, and the Journalists Syndicate, as well as the Human Rights League, the transparency group iWatch and the Social and the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

The civil society groups said in a joint statement they held Charfeddine responsible for journalists and activists' safety, adding that his language was reminiscent of threats made by the autocratic government that was ousted in a 2011 revolution.

Tunisian authorities have in recent weeks detained prominent opposition figures including politicians, judges, the head of the main independent media organization and a leading businessman seen as critical of President Kais Saied.

Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down the elected parliament and moving to rule by decree before writing a new constitution that he passed last year in a referendum with low turnout.

The president's critics accuse him of a coup that has undone the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution. Saied says his actions were legal and needed to save Tunisia from chaos.