Tunisia president says hopeful despite suspension of government talks

PARIS Tue Nov 5, 2013 1:51pm EST

French President Francois Hollande (R) welcomes Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 5, 2013. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

French President Francois Hollande (R) welcomes Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki at the Elysee Palace in Paris, November 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

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PARIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's president said on Tuesday he was optimistic his country would stay on the path to democracy despite a suspension of talks between ruling Islamists and opposition parties on forming a new caretaker government.

Monday's suspension of talks after the two sides failed to agree on a prime minister has dealt a blow to hopes of a quick end to political deadlock in Tunisia, whose 2011 uprising inspired the "Arab Spring" revolts across the region.

It remains unclear when the negotiations will resume.

"Whatever the difficulties at the moment, the (democratic) process is moving forward, albeit with a few failings, but we are absolutely determined to continue it," Moncef Marzouki said after talks in Paris with French President Francois Hollande.

President Marzouki, a secularist who has the backing of Tunisia's ruling Islamist Ennahda party, added it was imperative that his North African nation's politicians quickly overcame an impasse he said risked boosting "terrorism".

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

"I think Tunisia will set up this democratic state that is transparent, not corrupt, that will also be a rampart against terrorism," Marzouki said, describing recent events as "a tough period".

"TRIPLE CHALLENGE"

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.

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

"We're facing a triple challenge in Tunisia, an economic one to give our young people development, a democratic one to establish a democratic state and a security one because we are also facing terrorism," said Marzouki, in Paris to attend the General Assembly of the United Nation's cultural agency UNESCO.

Hollande, who in July made the first visit to Tunisia by a French head of state since the 2011 revolution, urged France's former colony to hold elections "without delay", adding that Paris would support Tunis in the fight against terrorism.

"We have experienced terrorism in Mali, but it is also displacing itself to Tunisia," Hollande said of the country where thousands of French citizens travel each year.

"It is turning up in several countries because there hasn't been co-operation in terms of security."

France sent troops to Mali, another former French colony in West Africa, in January to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants in the north of the vast desert nation.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

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