Tunisia crisis nears 'moment of truth'

2013-08-07 17:25
AFP

AFP

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Tunis - Tunisia's political crisis neared its "moment of truth" on Wednesday after tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of the capital to demand the government's resignation.

Newspapers said the North African country's Islamist rulers and their detractors must open a dialogue on ending the crisis gripping the North African state before it is too late to talk.

Tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Tunis on Tuesday night to demand the government step down, and the crisis deepened further with the suspension of the elected National Constituent Assembly (ANC).

"We must go from a showdown on the squares and in the streets to a confrontation through arguments," said La Presse.

Le Quotidien, a daily that is highly critical of the Islamists, said "everyone is unanimous as to the seriousness of the situation" and urged the moderate Islamic party Ennahda, which heads the ruling coalition, to make real concessions.

"The hour of compromise has come," it said.

Analysts say the moment of truth has also arrived.

"No party, including Ennahda, can ignore the position of the UGTT [Tunisian General Labour Union]... Ennahda can not carry on without taking on board the fact that the [economic and social] forces in the country do not agree with it," stressed political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi.

The powerful half-million strong UGTT has organised a general strike to try to force the government's hand.

Nightly gatherings

Alongside the political instability, Tunisian security forces have lost 10 soldiers since July 29 and have intensified an operation to hunt down Islamist militants holed up in the remote Mount Chaambi region along the Algerian border.

Tunisia has been wracked by political unrest since the July 25 murder of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi, and Tuesday's protests marked the biggest anti-government rally since the assassination.

Earlier on Tuesday, the ANC - a body elected in 2011 to forge consensus on drafting a new constitution - was suspended.

Brahmi's murder, as well as that of another opposition politician, Chokri Belaid, have been blamed on radical Islamists, with the Ennahda-led cabinet criticised for not doing enough to prevent them.

Assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said the ANC's work would be halted until the government and opposition opened negotiations to break the deadlock "in the service of Tunisia".

But the stalemate showed no sign of ending, with the opposition refusing to talk with the government until it steps down and Ennahda ruling out any dialogue conditional on its ouster.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh has refused to quit, offering instead to broaden the coalition.

Since the ANC was elected in October 2011, political leaders have failed to hammer out a consensus on a new constitution following a revolution that ousted long-time president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

And the suspension of the assembly's work throws into question Larayedh's target of the ANC adopting a new constitution and electoral law by October 23 ahead of a December 17 election.

The opposition has been holding nightly gatherings since Brahmi's slaying and has pledged to keep up the pressure during the four-day Muslim holidays starting on Thursday to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

Read more on:    zine el abidine ben ali  |  ali larayedh  |  tunisia  |  north africa
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