Deans of Tunisian law faculties refuse membership on panel to draft new constitution

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TUNIS, May 24 (Reuters) - Leading Tunisian academics on Tuesday rejected participation on a panel named by President Kais Saied to draft a new constitution, another setback for Saied as opposition spreads against his plans to restructure the political system.

Last week, Saied named by a decree Sadok Belaid, a law professor, to head an advisory committee that included law and political science deans, excluding political parties from the constitutional process. read more

"We express our adherence to the neutrality of the university and to distance it from the political issues," the deans said in statement reported by state media, turning down the appointments.

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On Monday, the labour union UGTT said it would organise a national strike over wages and the economy and refused to take part in a limited dialogue on political reforms proposed by the president.

With more than a million members, the UGTT is Tunisia's most powerful political force and its call for a strike may present the biggest challenge yet to Saied after his seizure of broad powers last year and moves to one-man rule.

Saied, who took executive power and dissolved parliament to rule by decree, has since said he will replace the democratic 2014 constitution with a new constitution via a July 25 referendum and hold new parliamentary elections in December.

Tunisia's major political parties have said they will fight Saied's decision to exclude them from major political reforms, including the drafting of a new constitution, and accused him of seeking to consolidate autocratic rule.

The president's opponents accuse him of a coup that has undermined the democratic gains of the 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab spring, but he says his moves were legal and needed to save Tunisia from a prolonged political crisis.

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Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Grant McCool

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