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Tunisia picks new PM ahead of polls

Ruling Ennahdha party and opposition say Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa will lead a caretaker cabinet into 2014 election.

Last updated: 15 Dec 2013 03:08
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Tunisia's ruling Islamist party and its opponents have named Industry Minister Mehdi Jomaa as prime minister in a caretaker technocrat cabinet to govern until elections next year, said the powerful UGTT union, which has been acting as mediator.

The announcement on Saturday is part of an agreement that will see the ruling party, Ennahdha, hand over power in the next few weeks as a way to end a crisis that threatened Tunisia's transition to full democracy after its "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011.

Under a previous accord brokered by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), Ennahdha had agreed to resign once the sides decided on a caretaker cabinet, finished a new constitution and set a date for elections.

Houcine Abassi, UGTT secretary-general, said Jomaa was picked following discussions which led to a vote.

"Our people have waited for a long time, but despite the difficulties and obstacles... this dialogue has not failed," he said.

Al Jazeera's Youssef Gaigi, reporting from Tunis, said Jomaa emerged as a consensus candidate.

"He is independent, he is not affiliated with any political party, and he has been in the government for a few months now," Gaigi said.     

Tunisia, whose strong secular tradition has collided with the political power of the moderate Islamist Ennahdha, has kept strong ties with former colonial ruler France, and relies heavily on European tourism.

Its political landscape is dominated by two men who say elections are the best way forward: Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi and Beji Caid Essebsi, a former Ben Ali-era official who now leads the main secular opposition party, Nida Tounes.

Islam's role

But the protracted political crisis has hurt the economy and prospects of generating prosperity in the nation where a street vendor set himself on fire nearly three years ago in a gesture of despair that ignited a flame of revolt across the Arab world.

In the two years since Ennahdha gained office after Tunisia's first free elections, political dissent has centred on how the role of Islam should be formulated in the new constitution.

The debate has unfolded against a backdrop of attacks, some linked to al-Qaeda, who have exploited the chaos in nearby Libya to gain weapons and training. Two secular opposition leaders have been assassinated this year.

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