News Column

Tunisian Minister Steps Down as Calls for New Government Rise

July 31, 2013

Tunisia's education minister has resigned, the government said Wednesday, in a sign of growing cracks in the ruling Islamist-led coalition following the assassination last week of an opposition politician.

Minister Salem Labyedh's resignation was announced by an advisor to Prime Minister Ali Larayedh. Labyedh was one of the independent experts brought into the government during the last political crisis, in March.

Two other independents - Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou and Culture Minister Mehdi Mabrouk - have also signalled their readiness to resign, following calls by the opposition for the fall of the government.

The opposition holds the ruling Islamists responsible for the killing last week of parliamentarian Mohamed Brahmi and that of Chokri Belaid, a leading opposition figure, who was killed six months ago.

Both men were shot dead outside their homes by gunmen travelling by motorbike.

The government has blamed the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia.

Thousands of opposition supporters have demonstrated nightly outside parliament buildings in Tunis in recent days to demand the dissolution of the Ennahda-dominated assembly and the formation of a "government of national salvation."

Ennahda's supporters have also rallied at the same spot.

The party, which is in coalition with two small leftist parties, said Tuesday it was open to talks on the formation of a unity government, but opposed dissolving the assembly until it had finalized a new constitution. Around 60 deputies are boycotting the 217-member assembly.

The tensions have been compounded by a series of attacks on the security forces.

A homemade bomb exploded in the early hours of Wednesday on a road used by National Guard patrols in Mhamdia, about 25 kilometers south of Tunis, the official TAP agency reported. No one was injured in the attack. On Saturday, a National Guard vehicle was blown up in La Goulette port, east of Tunis.

Two days later eight soldiers were shot dead in an ambush in the western Mount Chaambi region, where the army has been pursuing al-Qaeda-linked radicals for months.

Three days of mourning were declared.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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