May 24, 2013
Tunisian Islamists say no new gov’t amid crisis
TUNIS — Tunisia sank deeper into political crisis yesterday, as the ruling Islamist party rejected its own prime minister’s decision to replace the government after the assassination of a leftist politician led to a wave of angry protests.
The murder of Chokri Belaid, a 48-year-old secularist and a fierce critic of hardline Islamists as well as the more moderate ruling party, laid bare the challenges facing this nation of 10 million, whose revolution two years ago sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
The rejection of the prime minister’s move to create a government of technocrats to guide the country to elections also made clear that divisions exist between hardliners and moderates within the ruling party, Ennahda.
Police used tear gas yesterday to drive off the few dozen protesters who tried to demonstrate in front of the Interior Ministry, averting a repeat of the large rallies that swept the capital hours after Belaid’s assassination Wednesday.
But full-scale riots hit the southern mining city of Gafsa, where Belaid’s Popular Front coalition of leftist parties enjoys strong support.
The state news agency TAP also reported clashes in cities across the country, with police resorting to tear gas and warning shots. In the northwest town of Boussalem, demonstrators set fire to a police station.
The tension could escalate today. Dramatic turnout is expected for Belaid’s funeral; coupled with a general strike called by the main labour union, the events raise the prospect of confrontations nationwide.
The police and army have been put on alert to prevent any outbreaks of violence and to “deal with any troublemakers” announced the presidential spokesman Adnan Mancer in a press conference late yesterday.
To ease tensions, PM Hamadi Jebali announced late Wednesday he would dissolve the government and form a new one of nonpartisan technocrats to manage the country until elections, giving in to the longstanding opposition demand. Yesterday, however, the party’s executive committee rejected the move and maintained that it was not going to toss away legitimacy it had gained in elections.
“The position of Ennahda is that the troika (the three-party ruling coalition) will continue to lead the country but it is open to a partial ministerial reshuffle,” party spokesman Abdallah Zouari told The Associated Press. That is the same position the party had before the assassination and subsequent protests.
Belaid’s family and associates blame Ennahda for complicity in his killing, but have not offered proof, and other opposition figures have claimed there is a list of potential targets. Ennahda denies any involvement.
Meanwhile, the country’s largest labour union, the General Union of Tunisian Workers, called for a general strike today in a clear expression of their opposition to the Ennahda government. A threat to call a general strike in December was defused by negotiations.