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TUNIS: Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki’s secular party said yesterday that it would stay in the ruling coalition, but demanded the resignation of key Islamist ministers amid deepening political uncertainty.
“We have decided to freeze our decision to withdraw our ministers from the government, but if in one week we don’t see any changes, we will quit the government,” said Mohamed Abbou, Congress for the Republic (CPR) party chief.
The centre-left party is demanding the resignation of the justice and foreign ministers from Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s Islamist party Ennahda, amid soaring political tensions after the killing of a leftist opposition leader.
“Two days ago we presented the resignation of our ministers, but we were contacted yesterday evening by the leaders of Ennahda, who replied favourably to all our demands,” Abbou told a news conference.
He stressed that the CPR opposed the planned formation of a non-partisan government of technocrats, announced by Jebali in the wake of public outrage at the murder of Chokri Belaid, a leftist politician and fierce critic of the Islamists.
The killing triggered three days of violent protests in which one policeman was killed and 59 others wounded, according to the interior ministry.
“We are against a government of technocrats as it would allow for the return of figures from the former regime” of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Abbou said.
Ennahda, which heads the coalition government, has already rejected the plan, laying bare the divisions within his party, in which he is considered a moderate, and fuelling a political crisis.
Hundreds of Tunisians yesterday protested outside the national assembly demanding the government’s resignation, among them Belaid’s wife Besma Khalfaoui.
“This government must resign today, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. When a government fails, it must take responsibility,” she told AFP, while those around her shouted: “resign, resign,” and “the people want the regime to fall.” Jebali, who has set a target date of the middle of this week to form a transitional, non-partisan government, stuck to his guns yesterday, saying he had “no other choice,” and renewing his threat to quit if he failed to do achieve his goal.
“The situation is... urgent, there is a danger of violence. I am responsible for the government, I cannot wait,” the premier told French newspaper Le Monde.
He said the new government’s priorities would include development, job creation and reducing high living costs, with anger over poor living standards continuing to drive social unrest in Tunisia two years after the revolution.
Despite opposing Jebali’s plan, the CPR’s Abbou described it as “historic and positive, seeing how he went beyond his party,” but he insisted on the need to “respect the legality” of the elected government. In contrast, the third party in the coalition government, Ettakatol, threw its support behind the shake-up, with Finance Minister Elyes Fakhfakh saying it was necessary to “ensure the best possible success of this initiative.” AFP