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Tunisia's new prime minister takes office

Mehdi Jomaa takes office to lead caretaker government until elections as part of democratic transition agreement.

Last updated: 10 Jan 2014 17:37
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Mehdi Jomaa promised to form an independent cabinet of technocrats as soon as possible [AP]

Tunisia's new prime minister has taken office to lead a caretaker government until elections this year, according to the state news agency said.

Friday's development came a day after Ali Larayedh, prime minister from the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, announced his resignation in Tunis.

Mehdi Jomaa will head a non-partisan cabinet appointed after compromise between Ennahda and its secular opponents to end months of crisis three years after Tunisia's uprising against long-time ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Jomaa, who had been the industry minister, promised to form an independent cabinet of technocrats as soon as possible.

"I will do everything in my power to confront the challenges, overcome the obstacles and restore stability and security to Tunisia," he said on Friday.

Larayedh's resignation was as part of a blueprint to put the democratic transition in Tunisia back on track after the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi, an opposition MP, last year.

Under the plan, Larayedh was to be be replaced by Jomaa to head of a government of technocrats that would lead the North African country to fresh elections, due to be held later this year.

An independent authority was established on Wednesday to oversee the elections, a requirement that Ennahda had set as a condition for stepping down.

Tunisia's national assembly is in the process of approving a new constitution, which Ennahda had also demanded in exchange for handing over power. January 14, the Tunisian uprising's three-year anniversary, has been set as the deadline for the constitution approval.

The new charter had been delayed for months by the withdrawal of opposition assembly members in protest at Brahmi's killing in July.

Economic challenges

The transition to democracy following the overthrow of Ben Ali has been dogged by political instability and economic problems and Ennahda has been under mounting pressure to relinquish power after it was elected in 2011.

"Tunisia's revolution was sparked not only by political grievances, but also economic grievances, and the new government will have a lot of challenges to face on the economic side," Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, told Al Jazeera from from Washington D.C.

Central Tunisia in particular, where a young street vendor touched off the 2011 uprising by setting himself on fire in protest at his impoverished daily life, has seen a number of protests in recent days.

A new vehicle tax, which came into force this year, has also prompted nationwide protests with demonstrators blocking major highways.

Growth was less than three percent last year across Tunisia, and the country's unemployment rate exceeds 30 percent among people who haven't finished school.

"Tunisia certainly has fared better than its neighbours and has progress to be proud of on the political side," McInerney of the Project on Middle East Democracy said.

"But now they're really going to have to turn their attention to the economic challenges."

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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