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AU calls President Saïed's complaints about African migrations 'racialised hate speech'

Statement to the National Security Council follows deepening crackdown on opposition and dissidents

After President Kaïs Saïed told the National Security Council in Tunis there was a plot to settle migrants from south of the Sahara in Tunisia, the African Union swiftly condemned his remarks 'with deep shock and concern' at their form and substance.

'We will not permit the demographic composition to be changed and I know very well what I am saying,' Saïed told the council, promising that state agencies would move against 'people who have entered the country illegally.'

Migrants from other part of Africa say police have been raiding buildings in searh of illegal immigrants in recent weeks. Many people have been detained, including some with the necessary legal papers.

Local rights groups and opposition parties have condemned Saïed's speech and the continuing raids. They follow weeks of an intensifying crackdown against political opponents and dissidents by Saïed.

Rached Ghannouchi, the Parliament Speaker and President of the Islamist Ennahda party appeared before the investigating judge at the anti-terrorism unit of the Tunis court on 21 February to face charges of incitement. Ghannouchi has not been detained but remains under investigation.

Earlier this month, Esther Lynch, the leader of the European Trade Union Confederation, was ordered to leave the country after speaking at a public demonstration organised by the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT), described by President Saïed's office as 'blatant interference' in the country's internal affairs.

Having joined the ranks of Saïed's public critics at the end of last year, the UGTT has organised a series of demonstrations protesting against Saied's leadership (AC Vol 63 No 25, Apathy to greet polling day and Dispatches 5/12/22, Trade union chief poses new threat to Saïed).

Others arrested include: Issam Chebbi, head of the Republican Party; Chaima Issa, an activist who took part in the 2011 revolution; Khayam Turki, a former member of the opposition Ettakatol party who now runs a local think-tan; Abdelhamid Jlassi, a former senior member of Ennahda and Ennahda's Noureddine Bhiri have also been arrested and detained. Bhiri's lawyers reported that he had been arrested on accusations of 'seeking to change the nature of the state'.

Media critics of Saïed have also been arrested and detained, including Lazhar Akremi and Noureddine Boutar, director of Radio Mosaique, while the president of the national journalists' union, Mahdi Jlassi, announced that he has been accused of 'insulting the police'.

In an erratic video interview posted on his Facebook page on 14 February, President Saïed denounced those arrested as 'terrorists' and accused them of conspiring to undermine the state and manipulate food prices to foment social tension.

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