TUNIS: Tunisia’s Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, who was tortured under the ousted Ben Ali regime, resigned on Thursday as part of a plan to end months of political deadlock.

His resignation sees the departure of Tunisia’s first democratically elected government, which came to power after veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings three years ago next week.

“As I promised to a short while ago ... I have just submitted the government’s resignation,” Larayedh told a press conference.

His announcement comes as part of a blueprint, drawn up by mediators, to put the democratic transition back on track after the assassination of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi by suspected Islamist militants last year.

Under the plan, he is to be replaced within 15 days by premier designate Mehdi Jomaa at the head of a government of technocrats that will lead the country to fresh elections this year under a new constitution.

“We took on our responsibilities in very difficult conditions,” Larayedh said in a speech on state television shortly before handing his resignation to President Moncef Marzouki.

“We have worked for the benefit of our country and we respect our commitments.” Larayedh’s Islamist Ennahda party had been under mounting pressure to relinquish the grip on power it won after the uprising in elections to a constituent assembly, as the economy has stagnated and social unrest intensified.

Events in fellow Arab Spring country Egypt, where elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the army last July after a single year in power, has added to the pressure.

The formation late Wednesday of an independent authority to oversee fresh elections, which the Ennahda party had set as a condition for stepping down, removed the last hurdle to Larayedh’s resignation, according to the powerful UGTT trade union confederation, the main mediator in the crisis.

The approval of a new constitution, which Ennahda had also demanded in return for handing over power, is on track to meet an agreed deadline of January 14, the uprising’s third anniversary, with the assembly voting on it intensively article by article.The new charter had been delayed for months by the withdrawal of opposition assembly members in protest at Brahmi’s killing in July.

But their return has seen compromises swiftly reached on many of the most divisive provisions, including gender equality and the role of Islam.

On Thursday, the constituent assembly agreed to an article setting a goal of 50-50 representation between the sexes in all elected bodies, an exceptional move for the Arab world but one in keeping with the secularism that Tunisia adopted at independence which has given its women by far the most extensive rights in the region.

The charter needs the approval of two-thirds of the assembly’s 217 elected members, and it will then be the job of the next parliament apply it in Tunisia’s legislation.

The quickening political reconciliation moves come against a backdrop of intensifying social unrest, which was a key motor of the 2011 uprising.

Central Tunisia in particular, where a young street vendor sparked the uprising by setting himself on fire in protest at his impoverished circumstances, has seen a spate of violent protests in recent days. Before his resignation, Larayedh announced the suspension of a new vehicle tax, which came into force this year and has sparked nationwide protests.

“To avoid giving any opportunity to terrorism and to criminal groups, and after consultations with the ministries, we have decided to suspend the implementation of the vehicle taxes,” he said.

Late on Wednesday, several hundred protesters went on the rampage in the town of Feriana, in the central Kasserine region, attacking a tax office, a police post, a bank and a municipal building, residents and a policeman said.

Youths also clashed with security forces during the night in the central town of Meknassy, torching a police station and two vehicles, local UGTT representative Zouheir Khaskhoussi said.

The UGTT had called a general strike in Kasserine on Wednesday to protest at the persistent economic crisis gripping the town.

Nationwide, growth was less than 3 per cent last year, insufficient to bring down the country’s unemployment rate, which exceeds 30pc among school leavers.—AFP


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