Tunisia opposition welcomes move for new gov't

  • Associated Press
  • February 7, 2013 - 5:36 AM

TUNIS, Tunisia - Tunisia's opposition parties on Thursday welcomed the government's move to dissolve itself in favor of a caretaker body following the shocking assassination of a leftist politician.

The assassination of prominent government critic Chukri Belaid plunged the country into one of its deepest political crises since the overthrow of the dictatorship in 2011.

Belaid's family and associates blamed the Islamist-dominated government of the Ennahda Party for complicity in the assassination and anti-government demonstrations erupted around the country Wednesday and had to be quelled with tear gas. Central Tunis was calm Thursday morning amid a heavy downpour.

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.

His wife Basma had originally reported that he had been shot four times outside the family home. There has been no information about the identity of the killers.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali responded to the assassination late Wednesday by dissolving the government and announcing the creation of a caretaker body of technocrats to manage the country until summer elections — a longstanding opposition demand.

"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."

Before the assassination, the governing coalition of Ennahda and two secular parties had been in drawn-out negotiations with the opposition over a cabinet reshuffle and expanding the coalition. Talks had been deadlocked, with each side accusing the other of intransigence.

Central Bank head Chedli Ayari even warned on Monday that the country's tentative economic recovery was threatened by the political wrangling. The shock of the assassination — the first in post-revolutionary Tunisia's history — appears to have stimulated the political class to get back around the table.

The details of the new technocrat government and how it will be selected are not yet clear.

"It is a courageous decision and a long time demand of the opposition," said Mehdi Ben Gharbia of the opposition Democratic Alliance.

For ordinary Tunisians walking along downtown's Bourguiba Avenue, the site of yesterday's clashes in which one policeman died, the move was cautiously welcomed.

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.

"Nobody knows what will be the next government, but we hope that their competence will bring a real change because until now nobody is satisfied with the current government," said Adel Chikhaoui, an accountant.


Associated Press reporter Oleg Cettinic contributed to this report.

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