Blinken urges Tunisian president to return country to 'democratic path as quickly as possible'

Blinken urges Tunisian president to return country to 'democratic path as quickly as possible'
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Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDefense policy bill would require 'forever chemical' testing at military sites Biden criticizes treatment of Haitians as 'embarrassment' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs MORE told Al-Jazeera in an interview Thursday that he had spoken with the Tunisian president and “urged him to make sure that Tunisia returns to the democratic path as quickly as possible.”

“Tunisia’s been a remarkable demonstration of democracy, and it’s really, I think, been a strong example not just for the region but for the world. And we have concerns about deviating from that democratic map, taking actions that run counter to the constitution,” Blinken said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the State Department.

Reuters reported that two spoke Monday.

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The comments follow an announcement that Tunisian President Kais Saied made on Sunday. 

Saied said that he would assume executive authority along with a new prime minister, after firing his prime minister and freezing parliament following protests over the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tunisia and the country’s economic situation.

Saied warned against protesters who were considering waging attacks following the announcement saying, "whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets," according to Reuters.

Blinken said during the interview that the U.S. was concerned that the Tunisian government might resort to repressive tactics. 

“We also have concerns with any efforts to repress the voices of the Tunisian people, including the media, which we’ve seen some reports of in recent days,” Blinken said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by the State Department.

“So our strong hope and expectation is that Tunisia will return to that democratic path, act consistent with the constitution, unfreeze the parliament, have a government in place to do the work of the people, to be responsive to their needs,” he continued.

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Blinken did not go into detail about Saied’s response. 

“He gave a lengthy explanation of both the actions he was – he had taken and his intentions going forward. And the intentions he expressed to me were to return Tunisia to that democratic path and to act in a way that was consistent with the constitution. But of course we have to look at the actions that the president takes, that Tunisia takes,” Blinken said.

The Tunisian president has still not tapped a new prime minister and the head of the Islamist Ennahda party, Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, has labeled Sunday’s move as a coup, Reuters reported, with several other political parties following suit.

The protests and Sunday announcement are the culmination of years of political paralysis, increased unemployment and corruption, according to the wire service. The COVID-19 exacerbated the country’s situation as COVID-19 cases have still been reported in the thousands while it maintains a meager vaccination rate of eight percent, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"We very much recognize that Tunisians are suffering terribly with COVID-19 and a very, very challenging economy. They need a government, of course, that’s responsive to their needs, but that has to happen in a way that is consistent with, respectful of the constitution," Blinken said.