By Tarek Amara
TUNIS Feb 18 Tunisia's main political parties
failed to agree on forming a non-partisan cabinet to tackle
turmoil triggered by the assassination of an opposition leader,
Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said on Monday.
But he said efforts would continue to form a government
supported by most parties in the North African state that
spawned the slew of popular uprisings against dictatorship
across the Arab world two years ago.
Tunisia was pitched into crisis last week after leading
secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid was gunned down
outside his home in Tunis, touching off mass protests targeting
in part the ruling moderate Islamist party.
"The initiative for a cabinet of technocrats did not receive
full political consensus and has failed...But work is continuing
with all parties to form a government which has the agreement of
most of the political parties," Jebali told a news conference.
He spoke after a meeting with leaders of secular political
parties and his own Islamist Ennahda party, which has denied any
involvement in Belaid's killing.
Jebali suggested a cabinet of apolitical technocrats to help
restore calm and guide Tunisia to elections. He had threatened
to quit if his proposal failed but on Monday he said only: "I
will meet the president tomorrow to discuss the next steps."
The political crisis has disrupted efforts to revitalise an
economy that was hard-hit by the disorder that followed the
overthrow of veteran strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
Tunisia has been negotiating with the International Monetary
Fund for a $1.78 billion loan, and politicians said Jebali's
inability to re-establish a functioning government was retarding
economic rebuilding efforts.
"The political and economic cost of this failure will be
expensive especially that the country's economy is in a
difficult situation and the governance crisis will deepen
doubt," Issam Chebbi, a secular Republican party leader, said.
Jebali's own Ennahda party rejected his idea of a
Ennahda party chief Rached Ghannouchi told Reuters it was
essential that Islamists and secular parties shared power now
and in the future. "Any stable rule in Tunisia needs a moderate
Islamist-secular coalition," he said.
Ghannouchi said Ennahda might compromise over control of
portfolios such as defence, foreign affairs, justice and
interior. "We are ready to discuss all ministries, including
sovereign ones, in a new coalition government."
Violent protests, in which one policeman was killed, swept
Tunisia after Belaid's assassination, with crowds attacking
Ennahda offices in Tunis and elsewhere. Tens of thousands of
people turned out for the slain leader's funeral on Friday.
Tunisia's political transition has been more peaceful than
those in other Arab nations such as Egypt, Libya and Syria. But
tensions are smouldering between Islamists elected to power and
liberals who fear the loss of hard-won liberties.