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Tunisian Islamists disown PM

Tunisian protesters shout slogans during a demonstration outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Tunisian protesters shout slogans during a demonstration outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Tunisia’s governing Islamists rebuffed yesterday a plan by their party chief and Prime Minister to replace the Government after unrest erupted over the killing of an opposition leader, deepening the worst crisis since the country’s 2011 revolution.

Turmoil in the North African state that spawned the Arab Spring uprisings flared anew, with protesters setting ablaze the local headquarters of the main Islamist Ennahda party and a police station in the provincial town of Kelibia.

Police fired teargas to scatter protesters near the interior ministry in Tunis and stone-throwing youths in the southern mining town of Gafsa, where at least seven were injured. Crowds ransacked electronics shops in Sfax.

Further disturbances loomed on Friday when labour unions planned a general strike in protest at the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid, and his politically charged funeral.

An aide to Hussein Abassi, leader of the UGTT union, Tunisia’s biggest, said he had received a death threat after announcing the country’s first general strike in 34 years.

Wary of further violence, many shops in Tunis closed at 2pm while France, the old colonial power in Tunisia, said it would shut its schools in Tunis today and tomorrow.

Prime Minister Hamdi Jebali of Ennahda announced late on Wednesday he would dismiss the government led by his moderate Islamist party in favour of a non-partisan Cabinet until elections could be held soon. But the idea met swift resistance.

A senior Ennahda official said Jebali had not sought approval from his party, suggesting the Islamist group was split over the move to supplant the governing coalition.

“The Prime Minister did not ask the opinion of his party,” said Abdelhamid Jelassi, Ennahda’s vice-president. “We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with other parties about forming a coalition government.”

Ennahda’s two secular coalition partners as well as the main opposition parties also rejected any move to a government of technocrats.

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