Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party and the opposition have begun a national dialogue in an attempt to end months of unrest in the country that inspired the “Arab Spring” revolts.
“The train out of this crisis is on the tracks, and we are now on the way to finishing our transition to elections,” Rached Ghannouchi, chairman of the ruling Ennahda, told reporters on Friday.
The talks became possible after Prime Minister Ali Larayedh made a written pledge to step down in a last-ditch effort to persuade the opposition to take part in the negotiations.
Larayedh has agreed to resign at the end of three weeks of talks and appoint a non-partisan cabinet, which will run the country until elections.
The first step in the national dialogue will be for the two sides to set a date for the elections and appoint an electoral commission.
The North African nation has been in turmoil since July when the assassination of an opposition leader ignited protests that threatened to derail a democratic transition once seen as a model for the region.
The national dialogue aims to end months of political deadlock between the ruling Islamist party and the mainly secular opposition that has paralysed Tunisia’s political transition nearly three years after the January 2011 overthrow of veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
On October 24, thousands of opposition activists protested in central Tunis, demanding the resignation of Tunisia’s government before a national dialogue would begin. The protesters gathered on central Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the capital, waving Tunisian flags and shouting slogans such as: “The people want the fall of the regime”, “Get out” and “Government of traitors, resign!”
Bitter divisions between the Ennahda-led government and its secular opponents have blocked progress on those key political issues, hampering Tunisia’s democratic transition.
The heightened political uncertainty comes amid a tense security situation in Tunisia which was still marking three days of national mourning for six policemen killed in a clash with suspected armed fighters in the central Sidi Bouzid region on Wednesday.
The country has been rocked by violence blamed on jihadist groups suppressed under Ben Ali.