Tunisia Islamist leader says unity gov't imminent

AP News
Posted: Feb 11, 2013 6:38 AM

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — An agreement is imminent on a new national unity government for Tunisia to resolve the simmering political crisis brought on by the assassination of an opposition politician, the leader of the powerful Islamist party told the Associated Press Monday.

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, said that a new government is expected to be announced in two or three days, as the country that kicked off the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring teeters on the edge of a political crisis.

"We are on the road to an understanding following intense discussions Sunday with the political parties and the groups in the national assembly, which continue Monday," he said. "We are moving toward forming a government of national union."

Last week's assassination of Chokri Belaid resulted in days of rioting after many held the government responsible for his death, and came as negotiations to widen the governing coalition had been deadlocked.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, also of Ennahda, proposed a government of technocrats to lead the country and resolve the crisis, in tacit acknowledgement that the coalition of Ennahda and two other secular parties had not succeeded in tackling the country's economic woes or the rise of violence in politics.

Jebali's move was hailed by the opposition, but rejected by his own party, and Ghannouchi's latest statement suggests Ennahda has come up with an alternative of its own that would keep it in control of key ministries.

After Tunisians overthrew their long-ruling dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, 2011, they held their first free elections and handed Ennahda a plurality of seats in a new assembly tasked with writing the constitution.

The constitution was meant to be completed by now and new elections for a permanent legislature set, but the parties have become deadlocked amid increasing dissatisfaction with Ennahda.

Jebali said that a nonpartisan government was the only way to resolve the crisis, finish the constitution and set up new elections, but observers say many in Ennahda fear losing power.

The funeral of Belaid, whose left-wing Popular Front coalition of parties had few seats in the assembly, witnessed a massive outpouring of support and was widely interpreted as a sign of growing popular dislike for the Islamists.