Confronted with widespread public discontent, Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi on Thursday defended his government's record and said it was doing "the impossible" to bring about elections.
In a 40-minute speech to the nation, Caid Essebsi defended the transitional government's record since February, following the January ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and said that the government's "fundamental objective" was to bring about free and fair elections on October 23.
"If we don't get there, our government will have failed, the revolution will have failed," Caid Essebsi said in the Congress Palace, to an audience of about 250 politicians and representatives of civil society.
"We have done the impossible," he insisted, adding that the north African country was in post-revolutionary chaos when his interim government came to power after 23 years of rule by the Ben Ali clan, which was ousted by a popular uprising.
Caid Essebsi said the difficulties had included "700,000 unemployed," a "negative growth of three percent in the first six months," and "900,000 refugees who have come into Tunisia since the start of the Libyan conflict" across the border.
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"In this difficult situation, we're trying to move ahead as best we can, with modesty. All those who want to help us or bring new ideas are welcome," he added, visibly on the defensive.
The prime minister said he had heard the demands of the people but called for patience. The past months have been studded with protest marches, the latest of which took place in Tunis on Monday.
He pointed out that his government had brought about an increase in wages, along with an expensive programme to redistribute wealth to the poorer parts of Tunisia.
The speech was largely welcomed by representatives of the main political parties.
"He made details clear, it was a speech about what's been achieved that came at a moment when a feeling of disillusionment is taking the upper hand in much of the population," Maya Jribi, general secretary of the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), told AFP.
The prime minister "had made a commitment to taking urgent measures to clean up a certain number of sectors, notably that of justice," commented the head of the Democratic Front for Labour and Liberties (FDLT), Mustapha Ben Jafaar.
"He must work fast in this direction to appease and calm down public opinion."