UPDATE 1-Tunisian union calls for new public strike, escalates dispute with president

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By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, June 27 (Reuters) - Tunisia's powerful UGTT union called on Monday for a new nationwide strike in the public sector including state firms to protest against the government's economic policies, escalating a dispute with the government of President Kais Saied.

The latest confrontation between the union and Saied comes as Tunisia prepares to start official negotiations with the IMF over a loan to save public finances from bankruptcy in exchange for unpopular reforms including cutting food and energy subsidies and freezing wages.

The UGIT, the country's main labour union, strongly rejected these reforms, saying it would increase the suffering of Tunisians and lead to an imminent social implosion.

Its leader Nourredine Taboubi told reporters that the date of the new strike would be announced later.

A national strike by the UGIT on June 16 brought the nation to a standstill. Public transport ground to a halt and flights were cancelled.

The latest UGIT move intensifies pressure on Saied, who has tightened his grip on power since July 2021 when he froze parliament and sacked the cabinet - moves his opponents called a coup against Tunisia's young democracy.

Taboubi said that the union will strike to refuse "the reforms presented to the IMF".

"The government does not want dialogue, while social conditions are deteriorating, inflation rates are high, and key interest rates raised," he added.

UGTT Union has about a million members in the country, giving it the ability to paralyse the economy with strikes.

The UGTT leader said earlier this month the union was being "targeted" by authorities after it refused to participate in talks on a new constitution, which Saied aims to put to a referendum next month. (Reporting by Tarek Amara Editing by Gareth Jones and Emelia Sithole-Mtarise)

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