Crowds of people flooded Tunis on Sunday to celebrate the news that Tunisia's president dismissed the government and froze parliament, in a move that dramatically escalated a political crisis, but that his opponents called a coup.
President Kais Saied said he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister, in the biggest challenge yet to the democratic system Tunisia introduced in a 2011 revolution.
Crowds numbering in the tens of thousands stayed on the streets of Tunis and other cities, with some people setting off fireworks, for hours after Saied's announcement as helicopters circled overhead.
However, the extent of support for Saied's moves against a fragile government and divided parliament was not clear and he warned against any violent response.
Years of paralysis, corruption, declining state services and growing unemployment had already soured many Tunisians on their political system before the COVID-19 pandemic hammered the economy last year and coronavirus infection rates shot up this summer.
Protests, called by social media activists but not backed by any of the big political parties, took place on Sunday with much of the anger focused on the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the biggest in parliament.Ennahda, banned before the revolution, has been the most consistently successful party since 2011 and a member of successive coalition governments.
Its leader Rached Ghannouchi, who is also parliament speaker, immediately labelled Saied's decision "a coup against the revolution and constitution" in a phone call to Reuters.