Tunis – Hundreds of people took to the streets of the Tunisian capital on Saturday to denounce President Kais Saied, accusing him of “racist” comments and hate speech against sub-Saharan migrants.
Earlier this week, Saied said “hordes” of sub-Saharan migrants were causing crime and posed a demographic threat, sparking outrage in the North African country.
A statement from his office decried “a criminal plot… to change Tunisia’s demographic makeup” without citing any evidence, and he called on his national security council to take measures to tackle irregular migration.
The demonstrators demanded that the president apologise to sub-Saharan migrants.
Rebel girl in Tunisia. Rally against racism in the capital Tunis. pic.twitter.com/xSRyDcE48a
— ERIK OHLSSON (@erikjohlsson) February 25, 2023
“Down with fascism, Tunisia is an African country,” they chanted as they rallied outside the headquarters of the national syndicate of journalists before marching down Avenue Habib Bourguiba in central Tunis, as police in plainclothes looked on.
“President of shame, apologise,” they demanded.
Artists, human rights activists and members of civil society groups took part in the rally, the latest in Tunisia where Saied’s critics accuse him of flouting human rights.
Tunisia, which lies about 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Italian island of Lampedusa at its closest point, is a key departure point for African migrants seeking to reach Europe on what the United Nations says is the world’s deadliest migration route.
More than 21 000 sub-Saharan Africans live in Tunisia, including those with student visas and other legal residency, according to the FTDES advocacy group, citing official figures.
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Many irregular migrants from the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Ghana and Guinea work badly paid, informal jobs to get by and save up for attempts to reach Italy.
Saied froze parliament and sacked the government in a dramatic July 2021 move against the sole democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.
“Tunisia has gone from a democratic process to a fascist process,” placards carried by the demonstrators said.
Saadia Mosbah, who heads the anti-racist Mnemty association, addressed the rally with a message for migrants: “Tunisia is a welcoming country. Do not fear, we are with you.”
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