Tunisia's Ennahda criticises president as political crisis deepens

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TUNIS, April 20 (Reuters) - The biggest party in Tunisia's parliament publicly criticised President Kais Saied on Tuesday, warning his policies threatened democracy, in an escalation of the country's political crisis.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party accused Saied of "violating the constitution", having a "tendency towards individual rule" and "encroaching on the political system and the powers of the prime minister".

It was a response to Saied's comments on Sunday that his constitutional control of the military extended to the internal security forces, part of a wider power struggle between him, parliament and the prime minister.

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Tunisia has suffered near political stalemate since 2019 elections that returned a deeply fragmented parliament in which Ennahda, as the biggest party, had only a quarter of seats, while putting Saied, an independent, into the presidency.

Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, Saied's own nominee for the role, has since his appointment last year been at odds with him and backed by Ennahda, whose leader, Rached Ghannouchi, is the parliament speaker.

Mechichi tried to reshuffle the cabinet this year but Saied refused to endorse the appointment of new ministers. It left Mechichi as acting interior minister, a position Saied has challenged.

Tunisia's 2014 constitution has until now been widely interpreted as putting the internal security forces and the Interior Ministry under the control of the prime minister.

Saied is a professor of constitutional law whose surprise election victory in 2019 has rattled Tunisian politics.

Mechichi responded to Saied's speech by saying: "There is no need for individual, odd readings which, moreover, are taken out of context."

Tunisia was meant to establish a constitutional court to adjudicate on such disputes by 2015, but politicians have been unable to agree on the names of the judges to sit on it.

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Reporting by Tarek Amara, editing by Ed Osmond

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