UGTT Secretary General Noureddine Taboubi expressed his support for imprisoned politicians and activists.
The powerful Tunisian General Trade Union (UGTT) has gathered in the country’s capital and mobilized thousands of supporters against President Kais Saied in a demonstration of its strength following his recent crackdown on opponents.
Protesters gathered for a march through the city center on Saturday, hoisting banners reading “No to one-man rule” and “Stop attacks on the union”, chanting “Saied is a coward, the union is not afraid” and “Freedom ! End the police state”.
They marched after weeks of arrests targeting prominent opponents of Saied in the first major crackdown since he seized most powers in 2021, closing parliament and ruling by decree.
Prior to the protest, UGTT Secretary General Noureddine Taboubi gave a speech to the crowd. “The workers are united and we have chosen the way of struggle; struggle is not cheap,” he said.
“We will not accept the suppression of freedoms in the country and there will be no tyranny in Tunisia. We salute the imprisoned politicians in Mornaguia Prison.
“We denounce the harassment and night raids on the homes of politicians and the harassment of their families. The era of injustice, persecution and tyranny is over,” he added.
Saied threatens everyone here. Parties, civil society organisations, trade unions. All freedoms… Tunisians are here to say we cannot accept populism and budding dictatorship,” said Najeh Zidi, a teacher at the protest.
The crackdown is the largest since Saied took power and his detractors say it is becoming increasingly clear that he has dismantled the democracy he won in the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring and will end the freedoms it enjoys. brought with it.
Thousands of followers of powerful @UGTT_TN union protests #Tunisia chairman Kais Said pic.twitter.com/c7Cprjr7vb
— Tarek Amara (@amara_tarek) March 4, 2023
Saied has denied that his actions were a coup, saying they were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos.
The UGTT was initially slow to criticize Saied’s move as political parties denounced it as a coup, but as the president tightened his grip while ignoring the union and other players, it began openly challenging him.
A senior union official was arrested last month for organizing a strike by highway toll booths, prompting the UGTT newspaper to say that Saied had declared war on the organization and its million members.
This week, authorities barred foreign union leaders from entering Tunisia to participate in the rally as a show of solidarity with the UGTT, and Saied said he would not accept foreigners participating in protests.
In recent weeks, police have arrested more than a dozen prominent opposition figures, most linked to the coalition of parties and protesters that plans to meet on Sunday, accusing them of conspiring against state security.
Those arrested in recent weeks include politicians from Ennahdha, the largest party in the closed parliament, leaders of a protest group, the head of Tunisia’s main independent media outlet and a prominent businessman.
“We say to Saied: ‘we will not give up press freedoms, trade union freedoms and political freedoms’. We will not accept one-man rule,” said Ibrahim Bourghida, a trade unionist.