x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Tunisian government will not step down, despite protests

The leader of Tunisia's Islamist ruling party, Rached Ghannouchi, has said the government will not step down under pressure from the opposition, even as fresh protests were anticipated to demand the government's removal.

TUNIS // The leader of Tunisia's Islamist ruling party, Rached Ghannouchi, has said the government will not step down under pressure from the opposition, even as fresh protests were anticipated late yesterday to demand the government's removal.

His remarks were likely to deepen a crisis that has gripped Tunisia since a political assassination in February was followed by another last month.

"There are excessive demands at protests for the dissolution of the elected government," Mr Ghannouchi said.

"In democratic regimes, protests don't change governments; it's under dictatorial regimes that a demonstration is able to topple a regime.

"Unfortunately every time a tragedy hits us, we immediately call for the dissolution of the government and parliament."

A mixed bag of opposition parties, running from the extreme left to the centre-right, had planned to protest in Tunis late yesterday to mark six months since opposition politician Chokri Belaid was gunned down outside his home.

Government detractors said the Ennahda-led cabinet had failed to rein in radical Islamists blamed for Belaid's murder and the assassination of MP Mohamed Brahmi on July 25.

Tunisia has been rocked by anti-government protests since Brahmi's death and protesters have clashed with police, who have used tear gas to disperse them.

Protesters are also calling for the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly, which was elected nearly two years ago and has still not completed its task of writing a new constitution.

Speaking to the assembly, convened yesterday for the first time since Brahmi was assassinated, the prime minister, Ali Larayedh, had harsh words for demonstrators.

He said their activities meant security forces "are obliged to be in the streets when they should be participating in the battle against terrorism", referring to a growing security threat from extremist militants along Tunisia's border with Algeria.

That struggle "should be above political jockeying, of narrow partisan interests", Mr Larayedh said before calling on all parties to "reinforce national unity".

Mr Larayedh had also ruled out the government's resignation, offering instead to broaden the coalition and calling for a general election on December 17.

He said the government would ensure the constitution and an electoral law would be in place by October 23 to make way for the December polls.