Tunisia Islamist party rejects gov't dissolution
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- The Islamist party dominating Tunisia's ruling coalition on Thursday rejected its own prime minister's decision to form a non-partisan technocratic government to try to appease critics, signaling that the political crisis brought on by the assassination of a prominent leftist politician is far from over.
The announcement by Ennahda throws into question efforts to resolve one of the worst crises Tunisia has faced since its revolution two years ago and makes plain that there are divisions not just between the government and the opposition, but within the ruling party itself.
The country's main labor union also declared a general strike for Friday over the assassination, a provocative move that will shut the country down and is expected to inflame tensions in a country already on edge after Chokri Belaid, a fierce government critic, was shot several times in his car just outside his home Wednesday morning by unknown assailants.
Demonstrations erupted Wednesday around the country and had to be quelled by tear gas. Though the capital, Tunis, was quiet Thursday amid cold weather and a heavy downpour, the country's Radio Mosaique reported full-scale riots in the southern mining city of Gafsa, where Belaid's Popular Front coalition of leftist parties has a great deal of support.
Tunisia had been seen as a model after its people ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and kicked off the Arab Spring, but political violence and allegations of government negligence have dimmed hopes. The new crisis has raised fears it may not be an exception to the turmoil in the region.
Ennahda was long repressed by Ben Ali, but after his overthrow in January 2011, the well-organized movement dominated subsequent elections and now rules in coalition with two secular parties. Relations between the government and the opposition had deteriorated in recent months and talks over a government reshuffle had gone nowhere until the crisis. Meanwhile, critics like Belaid had accused the government of employing thugs to attack meetings of the opposition.
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali announced late Wednesday that he would dissolve the government and form a new one of technocrats to manage the country until elections, giving in to the longstanding opposition demand in a widely welcomed move.
On Thursday, however, the vice president of Ennahda, Abdel-Hamid Jelassi, said the party disagreed with the move, throwing the political future of the country into question once more.
Jelassi, according to Ennahda's website, said the country still needed political figures to run it and suggested returning to the long-running talks with other parties to expand the government. He added that the party was not informed of the prime minister's move before it happened.
Belaid's family and associates blame the Ennahda Party for complicity in the assassination, and other opposition figures have claimed there is a list of potential targets.
In an autopsy attended by the country's chief prosecutor Wednesday night, the coroner removed three bullets from Belaid's body as well as pieces of glass from the car window that the gunmen shot him through.
There has been no information about the identity of the killers.
Opposition parties had hailed Jebali's initiative as a courageous decision. The year-old government has often been criticized for being unable to tackle the country's problems, chief among them high unemployment and an economy battered by Europe's financial crisis and too few tourists.
"It's a recognition of the need to totally change the government which is incapable of running the country," said Taieb Baccouche, secretary general of the right-of-center Nida Tunis (Tunisia's Call) party, one of the main opposition parties. "There has to be immediate consultation between all the parties involved to avoid unilateral decisions."
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