UPDATE 1-Tunisia's assembly appoints key electoral council

Wed Jan 8, 2014 6:12pm EST

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TUNIS Jan 8 (Reuters) - Tunisia's national assembly appointed an electoral council on Wednesday to oversee elections this year, a key step in the country's transition to democracy three years after its "Arab Spring" uprising.

Selecting the nine-member electoral council was a key part of an agreement to overcome months of political crisis between the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, and its secular opposition over how to shape the country's young democracy.

"Congratulations to the Tunisian people for the election of these nine members. It was a tough task, but we have overcome differences," Meherzia Laabidi, deputy president of the assembly, said at the end of voting.

Under the deal brokered late last year to end deadlock, Tunisia's government plans to resign shortly and hand over power to a non-political caretaker cabinet that will govern until new elections later this year.

Three years after its popular uprising ousted autocratic leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the North African country is in the final stages of establishing a full democracy that is seen as a model for the region.

National assembly members are also voting on the last clauses of a new constitution, and the government and opposition have already agreed on a caretaker prime minister, Mehdi Jomaa, an engineer and former minister.

Tunisia's young democracy was threatened after the assassination of two secular opposition leaders last year by militant Islamist gunmen, forcing the country into a deadlock between Ennahda and opposition parties.

After months of protests, though, Ennahda agreed to step down, but only once the government and mostly secular opposition finished the constitution, set a date for elections and named an electoral commission.

Despite its tensions, Tunisia has fared better than Egypt, Yemen and Libya, who have struggled more with violence and instability since their revolts against their own long-standing autocratic leaders. (Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi. Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by G Crosse and Andre Grenon)

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