x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tunisia Islamists accept assembly move, urge talks

The Islamist party heading Tunisia's coalition says it has accepted a decision to suspend the work of the National Constituent Assembly and urged talks to form a national unity government.

TUNIS // The Islamist party heading Tunisia's coalition said yesterday it accepted a decision to suspend the work of the National Constituent Assembly and urged talks to form a national unity government.

Rached Ghannouchi, the Ennahda party chief, said in a statement that he hoped the suspension of the assembly would have a beneficial outcome.

The assembly would stop work until the government and opposition opened negotiations to break the political deadlock, speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said yesterday.

The country has been in turmoil since the February assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid. The situation was exacerbated by the murder on July 25 of another opposition figure, Mohammed Brahimi.

"Despite our formal and legal reservations about this initiative, we hope it will serve as a catalyst for political adversaries to sit down at the negotiating table," a party statement signed by Mr Ghannouchi said.

Ennahda said it hoped for "a consensus solution during this sensitive time because of security problems and major economic challenges".

The party said it supported "a national unity government comprising all those political forces convinced of the need to let the democratic process take its course" under the law.

Since the assembly's election in 2011, it has failed to hammer out a consensus on the new constitution following a revolution that ousted long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

On Tuesday, tens of thousands of people poured onto the streets of Tunis to demand the government's resignation.

Yesterday's newspapers said Ennahda and its detractors must begin talks on ending the crisis gripping the nation before it is too late.

Le Quotidien, which is highly critical of Ennahda, said "everyone is unanimous as to the seriousness of the situation" and urged the party 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 cannot carry on without taking on board the fact that the (economic and social) forces in the country do not agree with it," said Slaheddine Jourchi, an analyst.

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

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

Brahmi's murder, as well as that of Belaid, have been blamed on extremists, and the cabinet has been criticised for not doing enough to prevent the attacks.

The opposition has refused talks with the government until it steps down, while Ennahda has ruled out any dialogue conditional on its ouster.

prime minister Ali Larayedh has refused to quit, offering instead to broaden the coalition.

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

The opposition has held nightly gatherings since Brahmi's murder and has pledged to keep up the pressure during the four-day Muslim holidays starting today to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

 

Agence France-Presse