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Tunisia’s main trade union bloc launched a nationwide strike Thursday shutting down the country, and adding pressure to the already embattled president amid an ongoing political and economic crisis, Agence France-Presse reported.

The UGTT confederation called on three million public sector workers to walk off their jobs, halting operations at 159 state agencies and public companies. The strike also affected the capital’s main airport, resulting in empty check-in desks and canceled flights.

The shutdown comes as Tunisia prepares to start negotiations with the International Monetary Fund on a new bailout plan for its debt-laden economy. The government is proposing a number of reforms, including a salary freeze in the public sector, gradual cuts to some subsidies, and the restructuring of publicly held firms.

Meanwhile, the trade unions say the strike is aimed at defending workers’ economic and social rights after the “dithering of the government in the face of their legitimate demands.” The UGTT has criticized some of the reforms and had issued a series of demands, including guarantees that state sector firms, including some monopolies, will remain publicly owned.

Critics of the UGTT countered the confederation ignores the country’s deep financial difficulties, including soaring inflation.

The nationwide strike comes as President Kais Saied faces intense criticism following his power grab last year: Last July, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, moves his opponents have called a coup.

The UGTT initially backed Saied but later became a vocal opponent as the president pushes to hold a “national dialogue” – part of an initiative to overhaul the Tunisian state and consolidate an ongoing power grab, critics say.

The confederation has declined to participate in the national dialogue due to the absence of other parties, saying it was designed to impose “unilaterally chosen in advance outcomes.”

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