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Outgoing Tunisian PM Jebali to stand down-Ennahda party

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 21 Feb 2013 16:16 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Ennahda says will name next prime minister this week

* Jebali resigned after plan for technocrat cabinet failed

* Ennahda to choose PM from hardline wing-party official (Adds Ennahda official on list of potential nominees)

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Tunisia's outgoing prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, has refused to head the next government and his Islamist Ennahda party will name a replacement, a party statement said on Thursday.

Jebali, who is secretary-general of Ennahda, resigned on Tuesday after his plan for an apolitical technocrat cabinet to prepare for elections collapsed, largely because of opposition from within his party and its leader, Rached Ghannouchi.

"Jebali declined to accept nomination (as next prime minister)," Ennahda said. "A new candidate will be presented to the president of the republic this week."

The assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid on Feb. 6 plunged Tunisia into its worst political crisis since an uprising that toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired a wave of Arab revolts two years ago.

The killing sent protesters flooding into the streets, exposing the deep rifts between Tunisia's empowered Islamists and their liberal and secular-minded opponents.

Jebali had proposed a technocrat cabinet to replace his Ennahda-led coalition, which included two secular parties, to save Tunisia's fledgling democracy and ailing economy from further strife.

Ghannouchi blocked the moderate premier's plan and a senior Ennahda official told Reuters that the next prime minister would come from the party's hardline wing, which opposes any role for politicians linked with the Ben Ali era.

The official listed outgoing Justice Minister Nourredine Bouheiri, Health Minister Abdellatif Mekki, Agriculture Minister Mohammed Ben Salem, Interior Minister Ali Larayedh and Transport Minister Abdelkarim Harouni as the possible nominees.

"Ennahda will hold a meeting tonight to choose a candidate. The next prime minister will be one of the names on this list," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Ennahda won Tunisia's first free election in October 2011 and controls 42 percent of the seats in the National Constituent Assembly assigned the task of drafting a new constitution.

Tunisian secular president, Moncef Marzouki, will ask the next prime minister to form his government within two weeks.

Ghannouchi has previously said it is vital that Islamists and secular parties share power now and in the future, and that his party was willing to compromise over control of important ministries such as foreign affairs, justice and interior.

However, a hardline Islamist prime minister might find it hard to find secular coalition partners, particularly in the charged political atmosphere following Belaid's assassination.

Ennahda's own unity might also come under strain following the very public differences that have emerged between Ghannouchi and Jebali, who served as prime minister for 14 months. (Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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