TUNIS: Tunisia’s powerful UGTT trade union federation sought to mediate in the country’s political crisis yesterday, consulting the secular opposition on its proposals for new elections before meeting with the ruling Islamists today.
UGTT Secretary General Hussein Abassi, whose million-strong federation gives him influence outside the feuding political camps, met leaders of the “Salvation Front” of opposition parties to inform them of recent overtures from the government.
He was originally also scheduled to meet with Rached Ghannouchi, chairman of the governing Ennahda party, yesterday, but the meeting was postponed a day ahead with no official explanation.
“Things are still difficult,” Abassi told journalists after meeting the parties demanding Ennahda resign. “The opposition is sticking to its demand to dissolve the government and form a caretaker cabinet.”
Ziad Lakhdher, a leader of the Popular Front party, said Abassi had informed the meeting of Ennahda’s latest offer for a government of national unity led by the present Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh. “We reject this categorically,” he said.
Tunisia’s opposition has stepped up its pressure on Ennahda in recent weeks, angered by the murders of two leftist leaders this year and emboldened by the popular protest that led to the fall of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohamed Mursi in July.
With no powerful military to intervene like in Egypt, the two sides are locked in a political standoff punctuated by mass street rallies of their supporters and a series of real and rumoured contacts among envoys seeking a path to consensus.
Reacting to the mounting pressure, Ghannouchi unexpectedly flew to Paris last week to meet Beji Caid Essebsi, head of the largest opposition party Nidaa Tounes, who was on a visit there. He then held initial talks on Monday with Abassi.
Several opposition parties plan to call another round of street rallies this weekend in what they call their “degage” (“get out”) campaign, using the same term chanted by protesters against former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The opposition accuses Ennahda of mismanaging the economy, ignoring violent Salafis trying to impose their Islamist rules on more secular Tunisians and delaying completion of a new constitution that was supposed to be ready last October. REUTERS