Tunisia's premier to field new govt or resign

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Associated Press

Posted on February 14, 2013 at 12:05 PM

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's prime minister will continue to oppose his own political party and seek to form a government of technocrats by Saturday to solve the country's crisis or resign, he announced Thursday.

Hamadi Jebali said he will hold talks with representatives of all political parties on Friday to see if there is sufficient support for his solution to end the crisis exacerbated by a political assassination last week. He will announce the results of the meeting the following day.

Jebali's initiative, while supported by the opposition, puts him on a collision course with the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, which dominates the government and insists on sticking with a cabinet of political figures.

The two competing visions for how to resolve the country's political deadlock are even more striking because Jebali is the secretary general of the Ennahda, revealing cleavages within the party itself.

In the midst of an ongoing tussle between the governing coalition and the opposition, leftist politician Chokri Belaid was shot four times through the window of his car outside his home on Feb. 6, setting off anti-government riots around the country. Hundreds of thousands showed up at his funeral and the Ennahda-led administration was widely blamed for creating the violent environment that resulted in his death — as well as not solving persistent economic problems.

In response, Jebali called for a government of technocrats to end the transitional period by speeding up the writing of the new constitution and holding long-awaited new elections. His initiative has been warmly welcomed by civil society and the opposition.

Ennahda, meanwhile, has seen its support shrink with one coalition partner, the leftwing Ettakatol Party, supporting Jebali, leaving it just with the Congress party and a few other small groups.

On Wednesday, Ennahda issued a statement maintaining that the crisis could only be solved with a "national political coalition that is open to both partisan and independent figures."

Dozens of militant Islamists, meanwhile, organized a demonstration against France outside its embassy in the heart of downtown Tunis, protesting insults against Islam and its intervention in Mali. The protesters were particularly angry about comments from French Interior Minister Manuel Valls criticizing the "rise of Islamic fascism in Tunisia."

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