Tunisia's ruling party rejects P.M.'s plan

Feb. 7, 2013 at 3:18 PM
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TUNIS, Tunisia, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Tunisia's governing Ennahda Party rejected its leader's call for a unity government Thursday, the day after the assassination of an opposition leader.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali urged the dissolution of his government Wednesday, The New York Times reported. Abelhamid Jelassi, the Ennahda vice president, responded with a statement on its website.

"The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party," he said. Jelassi, Ennahda's vice president, said in a statement reported on the party's Web site and Tunisian news reports. "We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition government."

Chokri Belaid, 48, a leading opposition leader and government critic, was shot and killed outside of his home in Tunis Wednesday. Belaid, general secretary of the Democratic Patriotic Party, was shot as he was leaving his house.

In Tunis, residents told the Times the crowds on the streets were much smaller Thursday than they had been in the hours after the assassination. But the capital remained tense, and French diplomats said embassy schools in Tunis would be closed for the rest of the week.

Classes at the University of Manuoba near Tunis were canceled Thursday following a strike to protest the killing of an opposition political leader.

Tahar Mannai, vice dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, told Tunisia Live union members would meet to determine the next steps.

The higher education union members walked off their jobs Wednesday.

Violent clashes followed news of Belaid's assassination as thousands of demonstrators were met by security forces who used tear gas and clubs to disperse the crowds. At least one officer was killed, authorities said.

Jebali called Belaid's assassination a "heinous crime against the Tunisian people, against the principles of the revolution and the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other."

President Moncef Marzouki, who cut short his participation in a European Parliament session in Strasbourg, France, vowed to fight those who opposed Tunisia's political transition.

Marzouki said "a conspiracy against Tunisia lies behind the assassination of Chokri Belaid to threaten the country's security and stability and sow disorder."

Marzouki canceled a Thursday trip to Cairo for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit.

The killing -- the first officially confirmed political assassination since the Jan. 14, 2011, overthrow of dictatorial President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali -- spawned protests in Tunis and other cities, including Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of Tunisia's revolution and the ensuing Arab Spring uprisings.

Belaid told a TV interviewer the day before his assassination the ruling Ennahda Party had given "an official green light" to political violence. He separately accused "Ennahda mercenaries and Salafists" of attacking a meeting of his supporters Saturday, The New York Times reported.

Salafists are associated with strict, literal approaches to Islam.

Ennahda officials denied any involvement in the killing.

Jebali said on national television the small national unity Cabinet would be made up of technocrats not tied to any party, and they would remain in the Cabinet only until elections can be held.

He neither specifically said he was dissolving the existing government, nor announce a date for the new Cabinet.

The change must be approved by the National Constituent Assembly that is developing a new Tunisian Constitution.

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