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Thousands of people marched through Tunisia’s capital on Saturday, calling on President Kais Saied to accept “dialogue” as the country’s largest trade union faces a growing crackdown on opposition voices and rising inflation.

march organized by TunisiaPowerful central trade union was latest challenge to Tunisian president Kais SaeedWhose leadership of the North African nation is raising growing international concern.

Since taking office in October 2019, Saiyed has consolidated his power, scrapping the country’s democratic gains and unleashing crackdowns against migrants elsewhere in Africa.

In the biggest crackdown since the president seized power, police have arrested nearly 20 prominent political figures in the past two weeks, mainly Syed’s opponents.

“Freedom, freedom, down with the police state,” protesters marched in Tunis on Saturday, also calling for an “stop to poverty” in the North African country.

condemned the arrests

UGTT head Noureddine Taboubi accused the president of targeting the powerful union as part of a wider crackdown against critics.

Taboubi condemned the latest wave of arrests and imprisonment since February of Anees Kabi, a top official of the UGTT for highway workers, who was detained following a strike by toll barrier workers.

“We will never accept such arrests,” Taboubi told the protesters.

The UGTT has about one million members and shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 with three other civil society groups for promoting national dialogue in a country of about 12 million inhabitants.

Syed questioned the intention of the organizers of Saturday’s march and termed the UGTT’s decision to invite foreign trade union leaders to the protest as “unacceptable”.

The secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation was declared persona non grata in Tunisia last month after taking part in a demonstration. On Thursday, Tunisian border police returned a Spanish trade union leader.

“Tunisia is not a farm, meadow or land without an owner. Whoever wants to demonstrate is free to do so, but he is not required to invite foreigners to participate,” Said said on Saturday. Said on the eve of the march.

‘no to racism’

Taboubi called on Syed to adopt “dialogue” and “democratic” methods, slamming the president for pursuing a “violent discourse … that is dividing the country”.

The UGTT chief also defended “the rights of migrants, regardless of their nationality or the color of their skin”.

“Tunisia is a country of tolerance, not of racism,” he told the crowd.

Saied last month ordered authorities to take “urgent measures” to tackle irregular migration, claiming without evidence that “a criminal conspiracy to change Tunisia’s demographic makeup” was underway.

The rally on Saturday came as Tunisia prepared to repatriate some 300 West African migrants who feared a Wave of attacks against sub-Saharan migrants Since Syed’s comments.

Ivory Coast and Guinea sent planes to evacuate their citizens on Saturday as Tunisian authorities stepped up arrests expatriates, Some sub-Saharan Africans have camped in tents in front of the UN Migration Office in Tunis to seek safety.

Taboubi also criticized negotiations between the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Tunisia, which is battling inflation and debt worth about 80 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

Tunisia is seeking a bailout package of around $2 billion from the IMF, which conditions any aid on a series of reforms.

Taboubi said the UGTT was unaware of “the details of the proposals” made by the Tunisian authorities, but stressed that the union strongly opposes the lifting of government subsidies on basic goods such as food and fuel.

Tunisian authorities banned another protest, planned for Sunday by the Islamist National Salvation Front, calling it a “threat to public security”. Islamist leaders called on supporters to take to the streets anyway.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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