Tunisia’s PM-designate seeks to form ‘government of all Tunisians’

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Ali Larayedh, the Islamist politician tapped on Friday to become Tunisia’s next prime minister and who was tortured under ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said on Friday he hoped to form a “government of all Tunisians,” but opposition leaders swiftly signaled discontent.

President Moncef Marzouki asked Larayedh to draw up a government within two weeks after he was formally nominated for prime minister by Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi.

“We will start consultations to form a new government ... a government of all Tunisians,” Larayedh said in brief remarks after meeting the secular president.

He urged political parties, trade unions, businessmen and journalists to support his government to achieve the objectives of the North African country’s revolution and build democracy.

Ennahda’s choice for prime minister raised hackles among opposition parties, some of whom accuse Larayedh’s Interior Ministry of failing to curb Islamist violence, although he is credited for acting firmly against al-Qaeda-linked militants.

“The decision deepens the crisis because Larayedh headed the ministry responsible for the killing of Belaid and violence that has spread throughout the country,” said Zied Lakhdar, a leader in the Popular Front, in which Belaid was secretary-general.

The Interior Ministry and Ennahda have denied they had any hand in Belaid’s killing, which they have condemned.

Mahmoud Baroudi, a leader of the secular Democratic Alliance opposition party, said Larayedh’s appointment would aggravate tensions and increase anger in the streets.

“He was responsible for leniency with Islamist violence against human rights activists,” he said, blaming Islamists for disrupting opposition meetings and assassinating Belaid.

Larayedh, 57, has belonged to the Islamist party Ennahda since it was founded in 1981 and was president of its Shura (consultative) Council in the early 1980s, before rising to the head of its political bureau.

The former naval engineer was arrested in 1987 at the end of Tunisian founding president Habib Bourguiba’s rule, and sentenced to death.

When Ben Ali seized power months later, he was pardoned along with other Islamists on death row, but arrested again in 1990 and eventually jailed for 15 years, 13 of which he spent in isolation.

The Islamists were repressed during Ben Ali’s reign, and Larayedh was tortured in prison like many of his colleagues in Ennahda which now rules Tunisia.

The former regime threatened to infect him with the AIDS virus and to publish a pornographic video of him and another man in a campaign to discredit him.

His wife Ouidad, with whom he has three children, suffered sexual violence in prison, which was filmed in order to put pressure on her husband, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

Ennahda triumphed in Tunisia’s first free elections, in October 2011, 10 months after the uprising that toppled Ben Ali, and became the main party in the coalition government, taking the key interior, foreign and justice ministries.

Larayedh, with his thick black moustache and glasses, was appointed head of the interior ministry, which for years had persecuted him and his party.

“I almost died several times in the jails of the interior ministry. But I mark the difference between that period and now. The revolution came to advance and establish a transitional justice and not to seek vengeance,” he said at the time.

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