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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian judges began an indefinite strike on Tuesday to protest at the firing of dozens of magistrates, increasing pressure on a government already facing the biggest upsurge in protests since it came to power in a democratic transition.
Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri fired 81 judges earlier this week on suspicion of corruption and ties to the administration of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the autocratic ruler ousted last year in a revolt that inspired the "Arab Spring."
The Union of Judges said its members - who include judges at all levels of the justice system - would strike until their sacked colleagues were reinstated, effectively bringing Tunisia's justice system to a standstill.
"Resorting to dismissal runs counter to transitional justice, which requires disclosure of the truth and the provision of a fair trial and the right of defense," Rhawda Laabidi, the head of the Judges Union, said in a statement.
The Justice Ministry said it would stand its ground.
"The decision (to sack the 81 judges) is among the tasks of the ministry," said Fadel Sayhi, the minister's chief of staff. "We will not retreat ... because cleaning up the justice system is one of the demands of the revolution."
The coalition government, led by the mildly Islamist Ennahda movement, came to power last year after Tunisia's first fully democratic election.
It is now coming under intense fire, mostly over the state of the economy which slumped after the revolution and is recovering only slowly.
Its fiercest opponents are an alliance of trade unions and left-wing secularist parties which are trying to win power themselves when fresh elections are held next year. Sit-ins, strikes and street protests are regular events.
Maya Jribi, Secretary-General of the Republican Party and one of the leading critics of Ennahda, has said the coalition should resign and allow the formation of a new government.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Christian Lowe and Tim Pearce)
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