Tunisia’s Islamists reject proposal to step down

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Tunisia’s ruling Islamists resisted on Monday proposal by which they would resign pending elections, in a reaction that will likely worsen tensions with the country’s secular opponents demanding them to step down immediately.

The north African country has been in turmoil since an opposition leader was assassinated in July, which threatened the country’s transition to democracy.

The country’s powerful UGTT union had been pushing both sides to accept a plan for the Islamist-led government to resign after several weeks of talks aimed to plan an election date and for a new transitional administration to be formed.

However, on Monday, the moderate Islamist party Ennahda called for the election date to be guaranteed and said that the an assembly tasked with writing a new constitution should finish its work before the government would give up power.

“We have said that this government would not step down concretely before the completion of the constitution,” Rafik Abd Essalem, a senior Ennahda official, told reporters, according to Reuters.

The 800.000-member UGTT labor union threated on Sunday to organize anti-government protests in a bid to force the government to accept the proposal and resign in order for a new cabinet to be formed.

A senior Ennahda official said that his party cannot accept the “threat of pressure from the streets.”

On Sunday, Beji Caid el-Sebsi, former prime minister and leader of “Tunisia’s Call” party, said that interim president Moncef al-Marzouki must step down.

In an interview with Al Arabiya, Sebsi noted that having an independent government will be useless if President Marzouki remains in power.

President Marzouki is part of the executive authority which assumed power after the elections of Oct. 23, 2011 and he must step down when the current Islamist-led government leaves, Sebsi said.

He noted that this step is especially necessary because the Islamist Ennahda party and its partners will still lead in parliament.

The former prime minister said the country is going through an “unprecedented crisis” and that security is at its worst, saying the present government has “lost its credibility” and is responsible for the spread of terrorism.

Sebsi also said that the government’s policies put Tunisia in a serious economic situation which could lead to “a catastrophe,” as the 2014 budget has a $5 billion deficit.

“The will of Ennahda to remain in power in spite of the will of the people who oppose it means that they will use weapons and arms as Ben Ali did, which will take Tunisia to more violence or the Egyptian scenario,” said Sebsi.

Rashed al-Ghannouchi, head of Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party, previously also called for the resignation of the interim president if he plans to run for the upcoming presidential elections, as a way to give a fair chance to all candidates, and refrain from using government institutions to support one candidate against the others.

(With Reuters)

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