TUNIS The chairman of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party rejected opposition demands for a non-party government on Thursday and said the experience of Egypt should prompt parties to engage in more dialogue to resolve the country's crisis.
Ennahda party chairman Rached Ghannouchi said he could accept the creation of a national unity government if all political parties were represented, but a cabinet of technicians could not "manage the delicate situation in the country."
Speaking a day after his deputy party leader joined the growing call for non-party rule and Egypt's military cracked down on backers of deposed Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, he warned the opposition not to speculate about a military coup.
Ghannouchi's decision seemed likely to disappoint opposition parties and the powerful UGTT union federation aligned with them. The opposition parties have said they would negotiate with Ennahda only after it dissolves its Islamist-led government.
"We refuse a non-partisan government because this type of government could not manage the delicate situation of the country," Ghannouchi told journalists. "The government needs a lot of time to manage the political and economic issues."
"Events in Egypt should push us towards dialogue," he said, calling Wednesday's bloody crackdown - in which at least 525 people were killed - "a failure for democracy in Egypt".
"Those who want another al-Sisi in Tunisia," he said, referring to Egyptian military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, "should not continue to dream about that".
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the first senior European official to visit Tunisia since the crisis broke out three weeks ago, also called for dialogue and held up Egypt as an example not to be followed.
"Tunisia is not Egypt," he said after a meeting with Prime Minister Ali Larayedh. "Tunisia is on a path of change and what happened in Egypt must not happen in Tunisia."
He said a solution was possible through dialogue "if all parties now act with the necessary far-sightedness and do justice to their responsibility for the country".
Ghannouchi admitted that the Ennahda government in Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring revolutions, had not succeeded in improving the economy and handling other problems.
"We've made mistakes, but that doesn't merit a coup d'etat," he said.
In contrast to Egypt, Tunisia's armed forces do not have a large, lucrative stake in the economy and have not traditionally intervened in politics. Few observers expect Tunisia's military to step in to resolve the current crisis.
Tunisia, traditionally one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world, faces its deepest crisis since its popular revolution overthrew autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
An assembly elected to draw up a new constitution within a year has still not finished its work and jihadi militants have stepped up attacks to destabilize the government.
A dozen opposition parties formed a Salvation Front to demand the resignation of the Ennahda government after the assassination of an opposition leader in July, the second such killing this year by suspected jihadist militants.
It was emboldened by the Egyptian military's removal of Mursi last month after mass protests against his perceived attempts to entrench Islamist control of the state.
While his party deputy Hamadi Jebali has called for elections within six months, Ghannouchi said the constituent assembly should first resume its work.
"The constituent assembly should reopen quickly to finish the constitution and then proceed to elections," he said.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Tom Heneghan; Editing by Alison Williams)