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Tunisia leader says unity government imminent

Head of powerful Ennahda party expects new government to be announced in two or three days, ending political crisis.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2013 03:38
The killing of Shokri Belaid on February 6 prompted three days of violent protests in Tunisia [Reuters]


An agreement is imminent on a new national unity government for Tunisia to resolve the political crisis brought on by the assassination of an opposition politician, the leader of the powerful Ennahda party has said..

Rachid Ghannouchi said late on Monday that a new government is expected to be announced in two or three days, as the country that kicked off the 2011 pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring teeters on the edge of a political crisis.

"We are on the road to an understanding,'' he said. "We are moving toward forming a government of national union.''

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki's secular party had earlier said it would remain in the ruling coalition, but demanded the resignation of two ministers amid deepening political uncertainty.

The centre-left Congress for the Republic (CPR) party had demanded the resignation of the justice and foreign ministers, who belong to Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's Islamist Ennahda party.

"Two days ago we presented the resignation of our ministers, but we were contacted yesterday evening by the leaders of Ennahda, who replied favourably to all our demands," Mohamed Abbou, CPR party head, said on Monday.

Political tensions have escalated in the North African country after the assassination on February 6 of Shokri Belaid, a leftist politician and fierce critic of Islamist groups.

Tensions simmering

Tensions between liberals and Islamist groups have been simmering for months over the future direction of the once avowedly secular Muslim country, and stoked by a pro-Ennahda militia blamed for attacks on secular opposition groups.

Abbou stressed that the CPR opposed the planned formation of a non-partisan government of technocrats, announced by Jebali in the wake of public outrage at Belaid's assassination.

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The killing led to three days of violent protests in which one policeman was killed and 59 others wounded, according to the interior ministry.

"We are against a government of technocrats as it would allow for the return of figures from the former regime" of the toppled President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Abbou said.

Ennahda, which heads the coalition government, has already rejected Jebali's plan, laying bare the divisions within his party, in which he is considered a moderate, and fuelling a political crisis.

Against this backdrop of ongoing crisis, hundreds of Tunisians on Monday protested outside the national assembly demanding the government's resignation, among them Belaid's wife Besma Khalfaoui.

"This government must resign today, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow," she told AFP news agency, while those around her shouted "Resign, resign," and "The people want the regime to fall".

"When a government fails, it must take responsibility."

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