Tunisia govt expected to resign ahead of talks

2013-10-23 11:21


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Tunis - Tunisia's Islamist premier Ali Larayedh called an extraordinary cabinet meeting for Wednesday ahead of the start of a hard-won national dialogue, amid growing expectations he will announce his government's resignation.

Mediators hope the long-awaited dialogue will bring an end to the political paralysis gripping Tunisia since the July killing of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi, an attack blamed on radical Islamists, and mark a crucial step in the country's democratic transition.

Larayedh's office said on Tuesday that he would make a statement after the meeting, at around 11:00 GMT.

Parliament speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said in a televised interview that he expected the government to announce "its commitment to respecting the roadmap and its resignation within a few weeks".

Larayedh has previously stated that he would step down only once a new constitution has been adopted, in line with the roadmap drawn up by mediators and agreed to earlier this month by his ruling Islamist party Ennahda.

A group of opposition MPs who have been boycotting parliament since the political crisis erupted, also said in a statement that they had received assurances the national dialogue would begin with the government announcing its resignation.

But a senior member of Ennahda charged that the opposition was preparing to "destroy" the negotiations between the two sides by staging anti-government protests.

Dialogue or protests

A coalition of secular opposition parties has called demonstrations in Tunis to demand the Ennahda-led government's immediate departure just as the national dialogue is finally due to begin.

"Ennahda and some other parties are engaged in positive preparations [for the planned dialogue], and then there are negative preparations taking place that aim to destroy the consensus," said Noureddine Aarbaoui, vice president of Ennahda's political bureau.

"One side calls for dialogue and the other for protests," Aarbaoui told Shems FM radio.

The opposition umbrella group, which managed to mobilise large anti-government gatherings in the weeks after Brahmi's assassination but has since seen its protests dwindle in size, hopes to muster a big crowd on Wednesday.

Separately, the League for the Protection of the Revolution, a controversial pro-government militia, has called for a rival demonstration early in the morning, in the same central boulevard as the opposition, sparking fears of the potential for violence.

Wednesday's talks are due to kick off at 1400 GMT at the human rights ministry. Only representatives of political parties have been invited, with neither the prime minister nor President Moncef Marzouki expected to attend, according to the UGTT trade union confederation, which has been the lead mediator in the crisis.

Truce and reconciliation

Ennahda's Aarbaoui called on the UGTT to persuade the opposition parties to abandon their planned rally.

"We need a clear process of dialogue and that requires a political, social and media truce," he said.

According to the mediators' roadmap, the national dialogue will bring together the country's bitterly divided political factions and lead within one month to the resignation of Tunisia's first freely elected government and the formation of a caretaker cabinet of technocrats.

The blueprint also envisages the adoption of a new constitution, electoral laws and a timetable for fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.

Tunisian media earlier voiced doubts about the talks bringing an end to months of political deadlock.

Daily Le Quotidien said the past few weeks had been marked by political "manoeuvres combining pressures, distractions and double speak, not to mention clashes and low punches."

Wednesday's planned dialogue comes exactly two years after the election of the National Constituent Assembly, which followed the January 2011 uprising that toppled veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The assembly was tasked with adopting a new constitution within a year.

But the deadline has been repeatedly pushed back amid wrangling between the Islamists, their coalition allies and the opposition, with the country lacking stable government institutions and a timetable for fresh elections, nearly three years after the revolution.

Tunisia has also been rocked by violence blamed on jihadist groups suppressed under Ben Ali.

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