Tunisian assembly speaker calls for reconciliation

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The speaker of Tunisia’s elected assembly called Wednesday for the country’s political parties to resolve their differences by the end of the week and finish the constitution.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar gave an impassioned plea on television to end the political deadlock gripping this North African nation that was the birthplace of the Arab Spring when it overthrew its dictator in 2011.

It has been a rocky transition, however, and the assassination of two opposition politicians, the most recent in July, prompted some 60 deputies to pull out of the assembly, paralyzing its work.

“I call on my colleagues that have withdrawn to take back their seats in the constituent assembly to finish the constitution, which can be completed by Oct. 10,” he said. “You were elected by the people, you don’t have the right to withdraw in the last 100 meters.”

The opposition insists that the government, led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, has failed to govern the country properly and guarantee security and must resign immediately.

Ennahda, which governs in a coalition with two center-left parties, including that of Ben Jaafar, has offered to resign in four weeks once a constitution is complete and an interim government to manage new elections can be set up.

Opposition parties rejected this offer, however, in a mediation being conducted by Tunisia’s powerful labor union and business owners’ association.

Ben Jaafar insisted that all parties engage in direct negotiations around the same table and lamented the ongoing haggling over a few weeks ahead of the government’s dissolution.

He added that he would convene the assembly’s executive bureau next week, presumably with the goal of re-launching its work.