IMF says still in touch with Tunisia on loan

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:22pm EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Negotiations between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund on a $1.78 billion loan are continuing at a technical level, an IMF spokeswoman said after political turmoil prompted Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali to resign.

"Negotiations for a new precautionary SBA are still ongoing at a technical level," Wafa Amr told Reuters in an email on Tuesday.

"Once a new government is named, we will enquire about its intentions/mandate. Once the political situation is clarified, we'll assess how best to help Tunisia."

The IMF said early this month that talks on Tunisia obtaining a $1.78 billion SBA, a stand-by arrangement that would be used as insurance to back the country's development after its 2011 revolution, were at "an advanced stage".

But economic policy-making in Tunisia is now threatened by a political crisis following the assassination of leading secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid outside his home in Tunis on February 6.

Jebali initially responded to the crisis by proposing to create a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats that would lead the country into early elections. He resigned on Tuesday after his own Islamist Ennahda party opposed the idea, fearing it would be sidelined from power; the shape of Tunisia's new government is not yet known.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton, Writing by Andrew Torchia)

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