Tunisian President Kais Saied announced Sunday the suspension of parliament and dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi following a day of protests against the ruling party, who condemned the move as a "coup d'etat".
Thousands of Tunisians had marched in several cities protesting against the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, criticising what they said were government failures in the North African nation and crippling coronavirus rates.
Since Saied was elected president in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, a rivalry which has blocked ministerial appointments and diverted resources from tackling Tunisia's many economic and social problems.
Car horns sounded after Saied announced parliament's suspension following an emergency meeting at his palace.
"The constitution does not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but it does allow for its work to be suspended," the president said, citing Article 80 which permits such a measure in case of "imminent danger".
Saied said he would take over executive power "with the help" of a government headed by a new chief appointed by the president himself.
He also said that parliamentary immunity would be lifted for deputies.
"What Kais Saied is doing is a coup d'etat against the revolution and against the constitution, and the members of Ennahdha and the Tunisian people will defend the revolution," Ennahdha wrote in a statement on its Facebook page.
Earlier on Sunday in the capital Tunis, hundreds rallied in front of parliament, shouting slogans against Ennahdha and premier Mechichi.
Demonstrations were also reported in the towns of Gafsa, Kairouan, Monastir, Sousse and Tozeur.
"The people want the dissolution of parliament," the crowd chanted.
Several protesters were arrested and a journalist was injured when people hurled stones and police fired tear gas canisters, an AFP reporter said.
Despite a decade passing since the 2011 revolution which overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia remains prone to chronic political turmoil that has stymied efforts to revive crumbling public services.
The country's fractious political class has been unable to form lasting, effective governments.
Tunisia has been overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases, including more than 18,000 people who have died in a country of around 12 million.
Last week Mechichi fired his health minister over his handling of the pandemic, as cases skyrocketed.