x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Thousands march in Tunisia calling on government to step down

Protest comes hours before the ruling Islamists and opposition leaders were due to start talks aimed at ending months of political crisis.

TUNIS // Thousands of Tunisians marched through the capital yesterday calling on their government to step down.

The protest came hours before the ruling Islamists and opposition leaders were due to start talks aimed at ending months of political crisis.

The moderate-Islamist Ennahda party has agreed that the government it leads will resign in three weeks, making way for a non-partisan administration until new elections can be held in the country where the Arab Spring revolts began in 2011.

The North African country has been on edge since July, when Islamist militants killed an opposition leader, sparking street protests that threatened a democratic transition once seen as a model in an unstable region.

Ennahda has agreed to step down after negotiations take place to form a caretaker government, set up an electoral commission to organise a vote, and decide on an election date.

Waving the red and white national flag, and banners reading “No going back”, and “Leave”, several thousand opponents of Ennahda packed the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis to demand the party live up to its agreement to step down.

“There is no trust that this government will go,” said Saloua Faza, a teacher carrying a large Tunisian flag. “They have never shown us any good faith.”

The prime minister, Ali Larayedh, and party leaders have said they are ready to hand over power, but want conditions put in place for elections, including the new constitution and an electoral commission.

Nearly three years after the uprising that ousted the autocratic president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s political transition has been less chaotic than those in neighbouring Egypt and Libya.

Ennahda won 40 per cent in Tunisia’s first post-revolt election for an assembly to draft a new constitution, and formed an interim coalition government with two secular parties.

The process was delayed by the assassination of two opposition leaders, which enraged those who thought Ennahda was too easy on the hardline Islamists who were blamed for the killings and have grown in influence.

Six Tunisian police officers were killed in clashes with militants in the south yesterday. The violence came just days after 10 militants and two police died in a clash near the Algerian border.

* Reuters