Tunisia suspends work at National Assembly over political crisis

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The elected National Constituent Assembly is suspending its work until the government and opposition open a dialogue to end Tunisia’s political crisis, its speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar announced on Tuesday.

“I assume my responsibility as president of the ANC (assembly) and suspend its work until the start of a dialogue, in the service of Tunisia,” he said on state television.

The secular ally of the governing coalition led by the moderate Islamic movement Ennahda was referring to the crisis sparked by the assassination of opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi.

The July 25 slaying has already prompted many opposition members to boycott the assembly’s sessions.

“I call on everybody to take part in dialogue,” said Ben Jaafar, whose Ettakatol party has not resigned from the cabinet but called for a new government team to be formed.

Meanwhile, some 40,000 opposition protesters massed outside the constituent assembly building to demand the resignation of the governing coalition led by the moderate Islamic movement Ennahda, police said.

The throng was still growing as of 10:20 pm (21:20 GMT) outside the building in the Tunis suburb of Bardo, an AFP journalist saw.

The opposition refuses to hold talks with the government unless it steps down while Ennahda rules out any dialogue conditional on its ouster.

In the face of terror threats facing Tunisia, Ben Jaafar condemned the failure of the country’s political leadership to strike a compromise.

“Despite the gravity of the situation and instead of working towards unity, unfortunately party leaders have gone in the opposite direction, towards division, by mobilizing” street protests, he said.

“The people are fed up with this situation and can no longer tolerate this wait,” said Ben Jaafar.

Since the ANC was elected in October 2001, political leaders have failed to find a consensus on a new constitution following that year’s revolution which ousted longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The suspension of the assembly’s work puts into question Prime Minister Ali Larayedh’s targets of the ANC adopting a new constitution and electoral law by October 23 to allow for December 17 election.

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