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Dispute plunges Tunisia into political limbo

Withdrawal of cabinet ministers deals further blow to PM's government, already weakened by last week's assassination.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2013 23:48


The secular party of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki has withdrawn its three ministers from the country's government, saying that its demands for changes in the cabinet have not been met.

The decision on Sunday by Marzouki's Congress for the Republic Party deals a further blow to Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's government, already weakened by last week's assassination of secular opposition leader Shokri Belaid.

"We have been saying for a week that if the foreign and justice ministers were not changed, we would withdraw from the government," Samir Ben Amor, a Congress for the Republic Party official, told the Reuters news agency.

"This decision has nothing to do with the prime minister's decision to form a government of technocrats," he said, referring to Jebali's declared intention to name a non-partisan cabinet to run day-to-day affairs until elections can be held.

Jebali has himself threatened to resign unless his Ennahda party and other parties accept his proposals for an interim government of technocrats.

Jebali, who is in dispute with his party over his proposal for a new government, said on Saturday he would present his new cabinet "by the middle of next week by the latest", the official TAP news agency reported.

Jebali's terms

If the team was accepted by parties represented in the country's constituent assembly without being put to a vote, he would remain on as prime minister, Jebali said.

Talk to Al Jazeera

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Otherwise, he said, he would resign.

Jebali first made the announcement on Wednesday, hours after the Belaid's assassination outside his home by an unknown assailant.

Ennahda rejected that idea soon afterwards.

Jebali said on Friday that he was confident he could gain his party's support. It remains unclear how he plans to pull enough support to his side.

"I am convinced this is the best solution for the current situation in Tunisia," Jebali said late on Friday.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Tunis, said: "Since its emergence as the biggest political party after the elections of 2011, Ennahda has said they would like to pick up on that legitimate backing they have of the people.

"They think that a transitional period is very crucial, when they have to draft a new constitution, agree on the political establishment and set a final date for the elections. To do that, you have to have a very strong government.

"So will the prime minister convince Ennahda to back his proposal? It’s going to be extremely difficult for him to do that. If Ennahda refuses his offer, Tunisia will just plunge into further uncertainty."

Ennahda demonstration

Sunday's developments came a day after thousands of supporters of Ennahda demonstrated in Tunis.

The demonstrators chanted "The people still want Ennahda" and "The revolution continues" as they marched along the central Avenue Bourguiba on Saturday.

Some of the protesters shouted anti-French slogans.

The government has accused France of meddling over critical comments by Manuel Valls, French interior minister, who denounced the killing as an attack on "the values of Tunisia's Jasmine revolution".

"France get out!" and "The people want to protect the legitimacy" of the government were among slogans chanted by Ennahda supporters who numbered more than 3,000, AFP journalists estimated.

"Enough, France! Tunisia will never again be a French colony," proclaimed some of banners waved by protesters.

The pro-Ennahda demonstration took place on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, close to the French embassy.

Ennahda had called supporters to gather in central Tunis to show support for the constitutional assembly, whose work on a new constitution suffered a severe setback when leftist parties withdrew their participation following the killing of Belaid.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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