Tunisia PM fails to get new cabinet to stem unrest

Mon Feb 18, 2013 5:37pm EST
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By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's main political parties failed to agree on forming a non-partisan cabinet to tackle turmoil triggered by the assassination of an opposition leader, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said on Monday.

But he said efforts would continue to form a government supported by most parties in the North African state that spawned the slew of popular uprisings against dictatorship across the Arab world two years ago.

Tunisia was pitched into crisis last week after leading secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid was gunned down outside his home in Tunis, touching off mass protests targeting in part the ruling moderate Islamist party.

"The initiative for a cabinet of technocrats did not receive full political consensus and has failed...But work is continuing with all parties to form a government which has the agreement of most of the political parties," Jebali told a news conference.

He spoke after a meeting with leaders of secular political parties and his own Islamist Ennahda party, which has denied any involvement in Belaid's killing.

Jebali suggested a cabinet of apolitical technocrats to help restore calm and guide Tunisia to elections. He had threatened to quit if his proposal failed but on Monday he said only: "I will meet the president tomorrow to discuss the next steps."

The political crisis has disrupted efforts to revitalize an economy that was hard-hit by the disorder that followed the overthrow of veteran strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

Tunisia has been negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a $1.78 billion loan, and politicians said Jebali's inability to re-establish a functioning government was retarding economic rebuilding efforts.   Continued...

Tunisia's Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali arrives to address a news conference in Tunis February 18, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi