Tunisia's Islamists, opponents set handover date

TUNIS Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:42am EST

1 of 2. Rached Ghannouchi (C), leader of the Ennahda Party, arrives at a meeting in Tunis December 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Zoubeir Souissi

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's ruling Islamists and opposition parties agreed on Monday to finish their handover to a caretaker government by January 14, the third anniversary of the fall of autocratic leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

After months of crisis, Tunisia's Islamist party Ennahda and opponents last week named a new prime minister to lead a temporary non-political cabinet, which will govern until elections next year to finish its transition to democracy.

As part of their deal, political leaders must finish the country's constitution, agree on an election date, and name an electoral council to oversee the vote before Ennahda steps down to make way for the new administration.

"We have agreed the new government, the election date and the new constitution will be ready by January 13 so we celebrate on January 14, the third anniversary of the revolution," said Maghreb Republican party leader, Boussairi Bou Abdeli.

Three years after its protests against Ben Ali inspired Arab uprisings elsewhere, Tunisia is close to ending a crisis over the role of Islam in politics that has threatened to delay its last steps to democracy.

After months of demonstrations, Ennahda party earlier this year agreed to resign to ease the turmoil. But Islamists and secular opposition parties only named Mehdi Jomaa, an engineer and industry minister, as new prime minister after weeks of delays and wrangling.

Tunisia, whose strong secular tradition clashed with rise of Ennahda and the ambitions of Islamist militants, has not suffered the violence seen in Egypt, Yemen and Libya in their transitions after the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Alison Williams)

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