February 14, 2018 / 3:57 PM / in 4 days

UPDATE 2-Tunisian central bank governor resigns on prime minister's request

(Updates with Ayari resigning)

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Tunisia’s central bank governor Chedli Ayari said on Wednesday he had resigned, opening the way for Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to appoint a World Bank official in his place.

“I offered my resignation to the prime minister to leave space for a new generation of governors,” Ayari, 84, said in a statement on state TV. Chahed, standing next to Ayari, thanked him for his work during “a very difficult phase” for Tunisia.

Last week, the government said it wanted to sack Ayari and replace him with World Bank official Marouane El Abassi.

Parliament is expected to vote on that plan on Thursday, after which President Beji Caid Essebsi also needs to approve the move. Ayari has been in office since 2012.

Tunisia’s economy has been hit hard by instability since the overthrow of former autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, including major militant attacks in 2015. Foreign investment and the key tourism sector have both been affected.

Chahed’s move to replace Ayari came a day after central bank data showed Tunisia’s foreign currency reserves dropped to levels worth just 84 days of imports, their lowest in 15 years.

Ayari did not hide his displeasure at the nature of his departure.

“Even if the parliament renewed my confidence, I will not stay,” he told the assembly’s financial committee earlier on Wednesday, according to the parliament website. “What happened is a major insult.”

“I feel great bitterness after I and my colleagues in the bank worked five years without a day off.”

Abassi is an economics professor and has been the World Bank representative for Tunisia’s neighbor Libya since 2010. He holds a doctorate in economics from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Chahed heads a coalition of Islamists and secularists who have been trying to reduce the country’s budget deficit by imposing austerity measures, including tax hikes on some goods on Jan 1, as part of steps agreed with the country’s foreign lenders.

The measures triggered protests last month as many normal Tunisians say they are materially worse off than before the 2011 revolution.

Annual inflation rose to 6.9 percent in January, the highest level in 20 years, from 6.4 percent in December.

While tourism revenues climbed somewhat last year as the number of visitors rose by 23 percent, protesters calling for jobs have brought Tunisia’s entire phosphate output to a halt with sit-ins at the facilities of the sole local producer. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Ulf Laessing and Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

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