Tunisian union gives government one week to step down

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Tunisia’s powerful union federation said on Friday that the embattled Islamist-led government had one week to reach a deal for creating a new technocrat government, otherwise it will be “forced to consider” other options.

The 600,000-strong Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) has been trying to mediate between the ruling Ennahda party and the secular opposition, which is demanding the government’s ouster as well as the dissolution of a transitional Constituent Assembly that is only weeks away from completing the country’s new draft constitution.

Tensions have been rising in Tunisia since the assassination last week of a leftist politician, the second to be slain in six months. Political tensions, along with an outburst of clashes between the army and militants near the Algerian border, risk disrupting the democratic political transition that began after Tunisians toppled an autocratic president in 2011.

The UGTT, seen as being closer to the opposition, has offered a compromise that would put a new technocrat government in place but preserve the Assembly. The transitional body would, however, be put on a sped-up time scale for completing the constitution and the country’s new election laws.

“(We) will continue to hold talks and if our demands of changing the government and implementing a time frame for the Constituent Assembly, then we will have other options that we will be forced to consider,” the UGTT’s deputy leader, Bou Ali Mbarki, told local Nesma TV, without giving further details.

The UGTT is one of the most powerful political and economic forces in Tunisia. A single day of strikes last week cost the country millions of dollars and plunged its currency to ahistorical low against the dollar.

Despite efforts to reach a deal, both sides appeared to harden their stance on Thursday. They have called for rival “million-man” marches over the weekend.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, has refused to remove the prime minister under any new deal. Opposition figures remain equally recalcitrant about relinquishing their demand to dissolve the Assembly.

Tunisia’s successful 2011 uprising set off a wave of revolts across the region. Once upheld as a model of transition among troubled “Arab Spring” states, Tunisia now risks being plunged into political turmoil and broader instability.

Tunisian troops clashed with militants near the Algerian border late on Thursday, the second round of fighting this week.

Two days ago, militants ambushed and killed eight soldiers near the Algerian border, and two improvised bombs have been setoff in Tunis, the first time the capital has seen such attacks, although no one was hurt.

Political tensions have also sparked violence since the opposition began mobilizing large protests in several towns.

South of the capital, pro- and anti-government protesters threw rocks at each other and broke into fist fights, wounding three people, a security source said.

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