Tunisian judge jails 8 police union members over protest

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TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian judge has jailed eight members of a police union for harming public security and disobedience after clashes with police forces who tried break up their sit-in protest, a union official said on Friday.

Tension has been growing between police unions and the Interior Ministry. The unions accused the authorities of trying to stifle union activity, which it say is a valuable gain they achieved since the 2011 revolution.

It comes as President Kais Saied faces widespread criticism that he is tightening his grip after he seized executive power last year, dissolved parliament, named a new election body and replaced the judiciary Supreme Council in steps his opponents called as a coup.

Saied denies the accusations and says he is only seeking to establish a new republic that will end years of chaos, lawlessness, lack of justice and rampant corruption.

He has called several times this year for the unification of security unions into one and limiting their activity, which police union members oppose.

"The military judge decided to imprison eight union members because of the events that accompanied the dispersal of a union sit-in without judicial permission.", Chokri Hamada, an official in internal security forces union, said

The Interior Ministry said earlier that judicial complaints had been filed against unionists who resisted when the police tried to dismantle their tents. The union denied this.

"The sit-ins was peaceful..it did not harm public security, there is no disobedience and its aim was to show our refusal to hit union work," Hamada said.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Angus MacSwan)