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Tunisia PM resigns as part of transition plan

Ali Larayedh steps down in line with agreement for ending political deadlock against backdrop of growing social unrest.

Last updated: 09 Jan 2014 18:58
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Larayedh's exit comes as Tunisia's national assembly works on approving a new constitution [Reuters]

Tunisia's prime minister has resigned, in line with an agreement aiming to end months of political deadlock in the country.

Ali Larayedh, of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, announced on Thursday that he had handed his resignation to President Moncef Marzouki.

"As I promised to a short while ago ... I have just submitted the government's resignation," Larayedh said.

His resignation comes 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 is set to be replaced within 15 days by Mehdi Jomaa, the prime minister- designate, at the head of a government of technocrats that will lead the country to fresh elections.

"The president will appoint the new Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa shortly, and he will present his new cabinet in the next few days," Larayedh said.

"I hope the country will be a model for democratic transition."

Mounting pressure

Ennahda has been under mounting pressure to relinquish power after it was elected in 2011 following a popular uprising that deposed long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia's national assembly is in the process of approving a new constitution, and elections for a new government are due to be held later this year.

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

The approval of a new constitution, which Ennahda had also demanded in exchange for handing over power, is on track to meet an agreed deadline of January 14, the Tunisian uprising's three-year anniversary.

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

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

Indeed, recent steps towards political reconciliation come against a backdrop of increased social unrest across the country.

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.

Kasserine clashes

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

Several hundred protesters attacked a tax office, a police post, a bank and a municipal building on Wednesday in the town of Feriana, in the central Kasserine region, according to AFP news agency.

Al Jazeera's Youssef Gaigi, reporting on Thursday from the capital Tunis, said: "There were protests in different parts of the country because of new taxes imposed by the government.

"Tunisia is going through difficulties in terms of the economy. And most of [the] rural areas where the revolution has started initially, three years ago, did not see much development. And that's what they want now. They want jobs."

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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