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US warns of 'troubling escalation' in Tunisia after Ghannouchi arrest

The State Department expressed alarm over the stifling of political activity under Tunisia's increasingly authoritarian president, Kais Saied.
The head of Tunisia's Islamist movement Ennahdha Rached Ghannouchi greets supporters upon arrival to a police station in Tunis on Feb. 21, 2023, in compliance to the summons of an investigating judge.

WASHINGTON — The State Department voiced concern Wednesday over the arrest of Rached Ghannouchi and other Tunisian opposition figures whose detentions come as part of a broad crackdown on President Kais Saied’s perceived critics. 

On Monday evening, Tunisian authorities arrested Ghannouchi, the unpopular face of the moderate Islamist-inspired Ennahda party and the last parliament speaker before Saied dissolved the legislative body nearly two years ago.

According to Ennahda, some 100 plainclothes police officers searched the 81-year-old politician’s home in the capital, Tunis, and detained Ghannouchi for interrogation in what his party condemned as a “dangerous development.” His detention appears linked to recent comments, in which he suggested the Tunisian government’s crackdown on the political opposition could lead to “civil war.” 

Tunisian authorities have since detained three more prominent Ennahda officials and raided the party’s main headquarters. Reuters reports the security services also banned Ennahda from holding meetings, and closed the office of the wider anti-Saied coalition known as the National Salvation Front. 

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