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Tunisia: President's party quits government

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm •  Published: February 10, 2013

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's political crisis entered a new phase Sunday with an announcement that Cabinet ministers of the president's own party are quitting the governing coalition, which could force the ruling Islamists to compromise with the opposition.

Two years ago Tunisia threw off decades of dictatorship, sparking the Arab Spring uprisings across North Africa. But it is now facing its worst political crisis since then following the assassination of a prominent opposition figure last week.

Many blamed the government's negligence, if not complicity, for the assassination, and days of rioting followed that have only just subsided. A political solution to the crisis remains elusive and the question remains whether Tunisia can avoid the kind of political chaos wracking its neighbors.

Veteran observers of Tunisia's political scene caution that the nation's well-earned reputation as a stable bastion of moderation risks being put to the test, if the ruling Ennahda party of moderate Islamists mishandles its response to Wednesday's assassination of opposition politician Chokri Belaid.

"Tunisians can live without food, but they can't live without stability and calm," said Ali Dkhil, a Tunis-based journalist and long-time political observer.

The killing of Belaid — who carried out the shooting remains unknown — was the culmination of months of deadlock between the opposition and the governing coalition of the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party and two secular parties.

Belaid, as well as many others in the opposition, alleged that the Islamists were relying on hired thugs to harass political figures they disagreed with, and negotiations to expand the ruling coalition had hit a deadlock.

The coalition's failure to stem the country's economic crisis and stop the often-violent rise of hardline Salafi Muslims had also drawn fierce criticism, prompting the call to broaden the governing coalition.

Following the assassination, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali offered the compromise long sought by the opposition and said he would form a government of technocrats unconnected to political parties, to see the country through the crisis and to new elections. However, his party rejected his plan, saying they had been elected by the people and should continue to rule — highlighting the divisions not just between the government and the opposition, but within the governing party itself.

The announcement Sunday that Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki's secular party is quitting the coalition government in anger at Ennahda's handling of the country's crisis might in the end actually strengthen officials such as Jebali seeking a compromise, said North Africa analyst Riccardo Fabiani of the London-based Eurasia Group.

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