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Tunisia Islamists Disavow PM Over Crisis

Published: 15/02/2013 01:18:04 AM GMT
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TUNIS - Tunisia's ruling Islamists rejected Thursday, February 7, a proposal by the prime minister to replace the government following the killing of a leading opposition leader. The prime minister did not ask the opinion (more)

TUNIS - Tunisia's ruling Islamists rejected Thursday, February 7, a proposal by the prime minister to replace the government following the killing of a leading opposition leader.

"The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party," Abdelhamid Jelassi, vice-president of the ruling Ennahda party, told Reuters.

"We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition government."

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Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali announced late Wednesday he would dismiss the government led by his moderate Islamist party in favor of a non-partisan cabinet until elections could be held.

The announcement came a day after secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid was shot dead in front of his home.

The killing has sparked protests in the country that gave birth to the Arab Spring revolutions.

Tunisian police used teargas on Thursday to disperse demonstrators near the interior ministry in Tunis and stone-throwing youths in the southern town of Gafsa.

At least seven people were wounded in Gafsa, witnesses said.

Labor union leaders declared a general strike for Friday in protest at the politicians' assassination.

An aide to Hussein Abassi, leader of the UGTT union, Tunisia's biggest, said he had received a death threat after announcing the country's first general strike in 34 years.

Wary of further violence, many shops in Tunis closed at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. ET).

France also announced that it would shut its schools in Tunis on Friday and Saturday.

The premier's decision to replace the government was also rebuffed by the main opposition parties, demanding too that they be consulted before any new cabinet is formed.

"It seems that the opposition wants to secure the maximum possible political gains,” political analyst Salem Labyed said.

“But the fear is that the ... crisis will deepen if things remain unclear at the political level. That could increase the anger of supporters of the secular opposition, which may go back to the streets again.”


The political turmoil and lack of progress towards better living conditions have fuelled anger among many Tunisians.

"We are already suffering from recession since the revolution,” Fethi Ben Saleh told Reuters as he closed his Tunis gift shop early on Thursday afternoon.

“We rarely see tourists now, and this violence will deprive us even of our Tunisian customers.

"I do not care about this conflict between Islamists and secularists. I hate them all," he said.

In a reflection of investor fears about the crisis, the cost of insuring Tunisian government bonds against default rose to their highest level in more than four years on Thursday.

Nervous about the extent the volatility of the political impasse, global powers urged Tunisians to see through a non-violent shift to democracy.

"The revolution at the beginning was a fight for dignity and freedom, but violence is taking over," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius."I want to offer France's support to those who want to end the violence. We cannot let closed-mindedness and violence take over," he said on BFM-TV.

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