Ennahda protesters gather in Tunis to bolster ruling party

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Activists from Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party Ennahda gathered in central Tunis Saturday to protest the right of their movement to lead the government, amid ongoing talks to form a new cabinet of technocrats.

Dozens of protesters, many of them sporting beards and waving party flags and banners, demonstrated on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, cradle of the 2011 uprising that ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, shouting: “Supporting Ennahda is a duty.”

They also jeered ex-premier Beji Caid Essebsi and the secular opposition party Call of Tunisia which he heads, and which portrays itself as an alternative to the ruling Islamists.

The gathering comes ahead of a planned mass rally later on Saturday called by Ennahda to denounce Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s plan to form a government of technocrats in a bid to resolve Tunisia’s worst political crisis since the revolution.

But in a public show of instability within the party’s leadership, the vice president of Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party, Abdelfattah Mourou, called on the departure of party leader Rachid Ghannouchi.

In an interview with French weekly Marianne, Mourou told the news magazine that Ghannouchi had led Tunisia to “disaster,” in a report published Friday.

The vice president said he was the one who advised Tunisian Prime Minister Jebali to form a new government of technocrats to “save the country,” adding that he was among a panel of advisors to the PM.

Jebali has been seeking political support for his plan to form a non-partisan cabinet of technocrats, after the assassination last week of a leftist opposition figure threw Tunisia into turmoil.

But Jebali has been facing stiff resistance from Ennahda, which has been blamed for the cold-blooded murder of Chokri Belaid who was a staunch critic of the government.

Jebali was warned of chaos and threatened to quit if he is unable to go form a new government by the middle of the week.

Mourou accused Ghannouchi and his leadership of turning the party into “a family affair.”

“It is controlled by people who do not open up to realities and modernity. It is a disaster,” he added.

Ennahda was repressed under Ben Ali’s regime but emerged as a powerful political force after his overthrow in January 2011, with its veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi returning from 20 years in exile to a hero’s welcome.

It won the first post-revolution polls in October 2011, taking 41 percent of the seats in the National Constituent Assembly, and securing the key foreign, interior and justice ministries in the coalition government.

Ennahda hardliners are refusing to give up key portfolios, insisting on the party’s electoral legitimacy.