TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian police on Wednesday arrested Issam Chebbi, a prominent opposition figure, and surrounded the house of Jawher Ben Mbarek, another major critic of President Kais Saied, relatives and lawyers of both men said.

The arrests come amid a crackdown on prominent critics of Saied, involving more than a dozen arrests over the past two weeks including politicians, judges and media figures.

Chebbi, the head of the Republican Party, was detained near a shopping centre while he was out with his wife, his family and lawyers told Reuters. Police later searched his home.

Police surrounded the house of Ben Mbarek to detain him, but he was not there, his sister and lawyers said.

Saied shut down the elected parliament in 2021 and seized most powers, moving to rule by decree and writing a new constitution that he passed in a referendum with low turnout last year, actions his foes call a coup.

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The president has said the moves were legal and necessary to save Tunisia from chaos, repeatedly calling his critics traitors and enemies of the state. Last year he also took ultimate authority over the judiciary.

The police and Interior Ministry have declined any comment on the arrests, but lawyers have said some of those detained were accused of conspiring against state security.

Saied has also publicly said that some of those arrested were responsible for shortages of food and fuel that economists have blamed on a crisis in public finances.

Chebbi is the brother of Nejib Chebbi, leader of the National Salvation Front coalition of opposition groups that has organised protests against Saied.

Ben Mbarek is also a prominent figure in the National Salvation Front and has urged the overthrow of Saied through street protests.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Berkrot)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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