Tunisia ruling coalition in crisis talks with mediators

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Tunisia’s ruling coalition on Friday met mediators working to end a political crisis sparked by the assassination of an opposition MP, ahead of planned anti-government protests, an official said.

The mediators have been shuttling between the ruling Islamists and the opposition in a bid to end the political turmoil caused by the killing of opposition MP Mohammad Brahmi on July 25, an attack blamed on hardline Salafists.

The mediators comprise representatives of the powerful UGTT trade union along with members of employers’ organization UTICA, the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the national order of lawyers.

A UGTT official said Friday’s meeting involved talks with members of ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its allies Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.

The mediators were due later to hold talks with the umbrella opposition group, the National Salvation Front, which has repeatedly demanded the dissolution of the Ennahda-led government.

It has also refused to negotiate directly before a non-partisan cabinet has been formed.

Ennahda said this week that it would accept the resignation of Prime Minister Ali Larayedh’s cabinet, a step the mediators also favor.

But it said that agreement must first be reached on a timetable for fresh elections and the contents of a new constitution, the drafting of which in the national assembly has for month been blocked by political wrangling.

The opposition coalition has announced a new protest in the capital on Saturday in the form of a human chain stretching several kilometers from parliament to the Kasbah, where the government headquarters are located.

Last Saturday, the NSF launched what it called the “week of departure,” a week-long campaign of protests aimed at bringing down the government, starting with a mass rally outside the assembly.

But the demonstration attracted fewer people than two similar protests held earlier this month - some 10,000 according to police estimates.

The planned week-long campaign has failed to mobilize protests across the country of the kind witnessed in nearby Egypt that preceded the army's ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi on July 3.

The opposition accuses Ennahda of failing to rein in Tunisia’s jihadist movement, which is blamed for murdering Brahimi and opposition MP Chokri Belaid, another prominent secular politician whose assassination in February brought down the first Islamist-led coalition.

Ennahda has also been accused of mismanaging the economy and failing to improve living standards, with Egypt’s Morsi facing similar criticism in the mass protests that led to his military overthrow.

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