Tunisia’s opposition Salvation Front suspended on Wednesday national dialogue talks with the government amid mass demonstrations calling for the Islamist-led cabinet to resign, Al Arabiya television reported, quoting sources.
In a televised address Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh criticized the opposition demonstration as seeking to sabotage the national dialogue, which he said the government remains committed to.
“We call on all parties to work on reaching compromise,” Laarayedh said, urging the constituent assembly to speed up drafting a new constitution for the country.
Hundreds of opposition activists protested in central Tunis on Wednesday demanding the resignation the government coalition led by the Islamist Ennahda party.
The protesters gathered on central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, waving Tunisian flags and shouting slogans such as: “The people want the fall of the regime,” “Get out” and “Government of traitors, resign!,” AFP reported.
The demonstration took place amid a heavy security presence, with armored vehicles and anti-riot police deployed along the central Tunis boulevard, which was the epicenter of the January 2011 revolution that ousted former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
A separate pro-government protest called for 0800 GMT by the League for the Protection of the Revolution had failed to materialize by midday.
Wednesday’s demonstration came just hours before the start of a planned national dialogue between the ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the opposition.
Mediators had hoped the talks would bring an end to the political paralysis gripping the country since the July killing of opposition MP Mohammad Brahmi and mark a crucial step in the country’s democratic transition.
Tunisian officials said they expect Larayedh to announce his commitment to resign ahead of the talks.
Larayedh has previously stated that he would step down only once a new constitution has been adopted, in line with the roadmap drawn up by mediators and agreed to earlier this month by his ruling Islamist party Ennahda.
According to a political roadmap drawn up by mediators, the national dialogue will lead within three weeks to the formation of a new caretaker cabinet of technocrats.
Negotiators will also have one month to adopt a new constitution, electoral laws and a timetable for fresh elections, key milestones in the democratic transition which has effectively been blocked by wrangling between the Islamists, their coalition allies and the opposition.
A senior member of Ennahda charged on Tuesday that the opposition was preparing to “destroy” the negotiations between the two sides by staging anti-government protests.