Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has called a general election for December 17 after an emergency meeting aimed at easing political tensions and as protests demanded the Islamist government's ouster.

This government will stay in office: we are not clinging to power, but we have a duty and a responsibility that we will exercise to the end

Ali Larayedh,
Tunisian Prime Minister

Larayedh on Monday defied calls led by Tunisia's Ettakatol party, part of the ruling coalition led by the Islamist Ennahda party, that the government should dissolve.

"This government will stay in office: we are not clinging to power, but we have a duty and a responsibility that we will exercise to the end," he told state television, proposing December 17 as the date for a general election.

"We think that the National Constituent Assembly will complete the
electoral code by October 23 at the latest so elections can be held on December 17," he said.

Larayedh estimated that 80 percent of the work in adopting a new
constitution had already been completed.

The call for dissolution is further evidence of increasing pressure on Tunisia's Islamist-led government to resign after thousands of people demonstrated against it and dozens of legislators have stopped doing their jobs.

"We have called for the dissolution of the government in favour of a new unity government that would represent the broadest form of consensus," Lobni Jribi, a party leader, told the Reuters news agency.

"If Ennahda refuses this suggestion, we will withdraw from government."

'Important decisions'

Last week's assassination of opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi has plunged the country into a crisis, with frequent anti-government protests erupting in several cities. Monday saw protests in Tunis and Sidi Bouzid, both of which police dispersed with tear gas.

An estimated 10,000 people had gathered outside the constituent assembly for the Tunis demonstration.

The government blamed the killing of Brahmi on a cell linked to al-Qaeda, which in turn denied involvement.

On Monday, Education Minister Salem Labiadh submitted his resignation, according to local radio station Mosaique FM.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, eight Tunisian soldiers were killed by unidentified gunmen near the Algerian border, in what appeared to be one of the biggest attacks on the country's security forces in decades.

Source: Agencies