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Demonstrators carry flags and banners during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers, in Tunis on Sept. 26.ZOUBEIR SOUISSI/Reuters

Tunisian security forces have detained a senior official from the biggest party in the suspended parliament for the first time since President Kais Saied seized governing powers in July, the party said.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda, which accuses Saied of a coup for freezing the parliament and accumulating powers, said plainclothes agents seized Noureddine Bhairi on Friday morning and took him away.

It called the arrest a dangerous precedent that may foreshadow a slide towards tyranny.

The Interior Ministry said, without naming Bhairi or making reference to any individual event, that it had taken decisions regarding house arrest as permitted under state of emergency rules required to preserve public security.

Bhairi’s wife, Saeda al-Akrimi, told Shams FM radio that she had filed a complaint saying the security agents had abducted him. Mohamed El-Hadfi, head of a Tunis lawyers’ association, told the same station the state had to reveal Bhairi’s location.

Saied has promised to uphold the rights and freedoms won in Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that ushered in democracy and triggered the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

However, he has brushed aside the democratic 2014 constitution and given himself powers to rule by decree during a transitional period in which he will offer a new constitution to public referendum.

Ennahda, which has the largest number of seats in the suspended parliament, was banned before the revolution but became the most consistently influential party afterwards and a member of successive coalition governments.

However, as Tunisia’s economy stagnated and its political system ground to paralysis in recent years, support for the party waned. Although it came first in the 2019 parliamentary elections, it won far fewer votes than in previous years.

Since Saied’s July intervention, several senior politicians and business leaders have been detained or subjected to legal prosecution, often involving cases of corruption or defamation.

Rights groups have criticized some of those arrests and the use of military courts to hear such cases.

However there has been no widespread campaign of arrests of critics of Saied or other dissidents, and the state news agency has continued to report news that is unfavourable to the government.

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