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UPDATE 2-Tunisian president offers dialogue, but without giving details

·2 min read

(Writes through with Saied offering dialogue)

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, March 21 (Reuters) - Tunisia's president said on Monday there would be a national dialogue about the country's political system as he moves to rewrite the constitution after establishing one-man rule, but he gave no details on how it would take place.

President Kais Saied has already held an online consultation to canvas public opinion about the new constitution, and has promised to name a panel of lawyers to draft it and put it to a referendum in July.

His remarks appeared to indicate he was open to a more inclusive process - something that his critics and other major players have long demanded - but he did not say when or how it would take place or who would be invited to take part.

"Consultation is the first stage of national dialogue... the national dialogue will take place after considering the results of the consultation," he said in a video recording released online.

Critics of Saied accuse him of carrying out a coup last summer when he suspended the elected parliament and brushed aside the democratic constitution to say he would rule by decree until a new one was in place.

He rejects that accusation, saying his actions were needed to save Tunisia from what he describes as a corrupt, self-serving elite and a political system that brought a decade of paralysis and stagnation since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.

Saied, a former constitutional lawyer, has shown little appetite for compromise since his landslide second-round election victory as a political neophyte in 2019.

His critics viewed the online consultation about the constitution as a means to bypass dialogue with the country's other main players. When it ended on Sunday, only 500,000 Tunisians had taken part from a population of 12 million.

Meanwhile, a dire economy and the imminent threat of national bankruptcy have added to the pressure on Saied, as he attempts to redraw the political system at a moment when many Tunisians are more concerned by joblessness and rising prices.

Fitch ratings agency downgraded Tunisian sovereign debt to junk status on Friday, saying it believed the government would default on loans.

To avert a collapse in public finances, Tunisia likely requires an international rescue package from the International Monetary Fund but it would need to offer credible reforms backed across the political system, including by the UGTT labour union.

Last week the UGTT loudly rejected reforms it said had been proposed by the government and said it would take action if Saied tried to cut it out of the political process. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Angus McDowall and Andrew Heavens)

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