(Adds quotes from Abassi)
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Former World Bank official and economics professor Marouane el Abassi was confirmed by Tunisia’s parliament as the new central bank governor on Thursday, promising “extraordinary measures” to lift the country’s economy.
Abassi takes over at a time when Tunisia faces deep economic challenges including rising deficits and inflation, a fall in the value of the Tunisian dinar and persistently high unemployment.
“I do not believe that there is a crisis that cannot be solved,” Abassi told lawmakers before the vote on his nomination.
“But the current period is an extraordinary period that needs to be dealt with through extraordinary measures. We must finish with traditional solutions.”
Out of 157 members of parliament present, 134 voted to approve Abassi. He replaces Chedli Ayari who had led the central bank since 2012 and resigned on Wednesday, reluctantly acceding to a request from Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
Since the 2011 uprising that toppled autocratic leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, successive governments have struggled to create jobs and implement reforms.
Labour unrest and attacks by Islamist militants have hurt foreign investment, industrial production and the key tourism industry.
Annual inflation rose to 6.9 percent in January, the highest rate in 20 years. Foreign currency reserves have dropped to their lowest level in 15 years and the trade deficit widened in December to a record $6.25 billion. In 2017, the dinar lost nearly 21 percent of its value against the euro.
Tunisia’s economic indicators were “frightening”, Abassi told parliament.
“The priorities will be the worrying inflation rates that could reach 10 percent if we don’t react, the growing trade deficit and the current account deficit,” he said.
“Another priority is the fight against the parallel market to support the Tunisian currency.”
Under pressure from international lenders, Chahed is pushing economic reforms in an effort to curb public spending and boost investment.
Austerity measures including tax and price hikes that took effect on Jan. 1 triggered protests, some violent, in towns and cities across Tunisia. (Reporting By Tarek Amara; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)