Tunisia's ruling Islamists, opposition suspend talks over new government

TUNIS Mon Nov 4, 2013 6:58pm EST

Beji Caid Essebsi (C), former Tunisian prime minister and leader of the Nida Touns (Call of Tunisia) secular party, gestures after a meeting as part of a dialogue between ruling Islamists and the opposition to pave the way for the formation of a transitional government, in Tunis November 4, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Beji Caid Essebsi (C), former Tunisian prime minister and leader of the Nida Touns (Call of Tunisia) secular party, gestures after a meeting as part of a dialogue between ruling Islamists and the opposition to pave the way for the formation of a transitional government, in Tunis November 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's ruling Islamists and opposition parties suspended talks on Monday over forming a new caretaker government to end the country's crisis after the two sides failed to agree on naming a prime minister.

The suspension was a blow to hopes of a quick end to political deadlock in a country whose 2011 uprising inspired the "Arab Spring" revolts across the region. It was not clear when negotiations would restart.

Tunisia's Islamist-led government has already agreed to step down later this month to make way for a temporary administration that will govern until elections, but the two sides remain deeply split over details of their agreement.

"They were unable to reach a consensus over the prime minister. The dialogue has been suspended until there is solid ground for negotiations," said Hussein Abassi, leader of the powerful UGTT union that brokered the talks.

He said the union may propose names for the premier if moderate ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the opposition were unable to reach agreement.

Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi said the impasse would not last long, but the opposition accused his party of political games in an attempt to hang on to power.

"Ennahda wants to leave by the door and come back in through the window," said Hamma Hammami, an opposition party leader.

Since its uprising ousted autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali nearly three years ago, Tunisia has struggled with a widening division over the role of Islam in one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world.

But the assassination of two secular opposition leaders this year by Islamist militants sparked protests by opposition parties who demanded Ennahda resign in part because it was too soft on hard-liner Islamists.

Recent militant clashes with police and a suicide bomber at a beach resort last week underscored the rise of the militants in Tunisia.

Ennahda and the opposition must still negotiate over a date for new elections and the composition of an electoral board and finish work on the country's new constitution before Ennahda steps down later this month.

(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Sandra Maler and Philip Barbara)

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