Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh gives a press conference in Tunis on October 23, 2013
Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh gives a press conference in Tunis on October 23, 2013 © Fethi Belaid - AFP/File
Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh gives a press conference in Tunis on October 23, 2013
AFP
Last updated: November 1, 2013

Tunisia parties meet to agree on new premier

Tunisia's party leaders met Friday to choose a new premier to be tasked with replacing an Islamist-led government and steering the country out of a months-long political crisis, mediators said.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring was plunged into turmoil after the assassination of a prominent opposition figure in July by suspected jihadists, with critics accusing the ruling Ennahda party, a moderate Islamist movement, of failing to curb extremists.

The powerful UGTT union mediating between Ennahda and the opposition said the meetings to choose a new prime minister would also aim to take "a set of decisions to accelerate the adoption of the constitution."

"The message which will emerge from the national dialogue is that Tunisians are capable of compromise despite their differences,"the union said on its Facebook page.

Under a roadmap for the negotiations that started a week ago, Ennahda and the opposition plan to announce Saturday the name of the person who will succeed Ali Larayedh as premier.

At the same time, the Constituent National Assembly must elect members of the future electoral commission before starting the process of adopting a constitution, which has already taken two years to draft and must be completed by the end of the month.

After an initial meeting, media and participants said two candidates had emerged as favourites: veteran politicians Mohamed Ennaceur, 79, and Ahmed Mestiri, 88.

Both men served as cabinet ministers under Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first post-independence leader.

Prominent economists Mustapha Kamel Nabli and Jalloul Ayed had earlier also been named as frontrunners.

Whoever is tapped for the position will have two weeks to form a government of independents to prepare for elections.

Larayedh has pledged to step down so long as the timetable is respected. The Assembly has until the end of November to draw up a new constitution and an electoral law.

The political crisis erupted in July with the killing of opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi by suspected jihadists, triggering calls for the resignation of Larayedh's government.

Since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and kicked off the Arab Spring, Tunisia has suffered a series of attacks blamed on jihadist groups previously suppressed under the long-ruling strongman.

The extremist groups have mounted several attacks on security forces, especially in the rugged border region with Algeria.

On Wednesday a suicide bomber blew himself up at a beach in the popular tourist resort of Sousse and minutes later security forces foiled another attack in nearby Monastir.

The failed suicide bombings sparked fears about the future of the vital tourism sector, which has seen a 30-percent drop in revenues since the 2011 revolution, as political turmoil has spread across northern Africa.

Authorities said five members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Sharia movement were arrested over the attacks, which have not been claimed.

On Wednesday the Fitch agency downgraded by two notches Tunisia's longterm debt rating from "BB+" to "BB-" over political tensions, the delay of elections and a rise in unrest.

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