Tunisian union seeks to salvage crisis talks

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 12, 2013 2:08 PM
Tunisian union seeks to salvage crisis talks

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's powerful labor union on Thursday tried to broker a last-minute agreement between the country's ruling Islamists and secular opposition, struggling to reach consensus over forming a new government.

The government has agreed to step down in a few weeks to ease political turmoil that has threatened to upset Tunisia's transition to full democracy three years after its "Arab Spring" uprising.

Tunisia's UGTT labor movement has set a deadline of December 14 for the two sides to name a prime minister for a caretaker administration to govern until new elections are held early next year.

Seven major parties, including moderate Islamist party Ennahda and the main opposition bloc, the Nida Tounes party, held talks on Wednesday and negotiations continued through Thursday to work out a deal.

"An agreement might be reached before next Saturday," Mouldi Jandoubi, a senior leader in the UGTT, told reporters. No parties would comment.

Political parties are split over the role of Islam. Tunisia's economy is faltering and Islamist militants have carried out a series of attacks.

Under a deal brokered by the UGTT, Ennahda has agreed to step down but only once the two sides agree on a premier and a caretaker cabinet, finish their new constitution and set a date for elections next year.

Worries from Tunisia's international lenders about the country's deficit and the assassinations of two opposition leaders by Islamist militants earlier this year have increased pressure to reach an accord.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey and Andrew Roche)