Former Tunisian PM declines to head new gov't

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Associated Press

Posted on February 21, 2013 at 1:03 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 21 at 1:34 PM

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's ruling party said Thursday that the former prime minister and its secretary general have declined an offer to head a new coalition government.

Instead, Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, has compiled a shortlist of alternate names, though they all seem to come from the party's hardline faction, making chances for the imminent resolution of the country's political impasse unlikely.

Hamadi Jebali, prime minister for well over a year, resigned after Ennahda, his own party, opposed his efforts to resolve Tunisia's political crisis by crafting a government of technocrats.

Ennahda is "engaged in internal consultations and discussions with its partners to propose a nominee to the president of the republic before the end of this week," a party statement said.

The TAP news agency quoted Ennahda spokesman Nejib Gharbi as saying four other candidates from the party, all ministers in the old government, have been shortlisted.

Tunisian media has said that Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri, Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, Health Minister Abellatif Mekki and Agricultural Minister Mohammed Ben Salem — all party hawks — are on the short list to become the new prime minister.

Demands to replace the first two were actually one of the major conflicts between Ennahda and the two secular parties that are its partners in the ruling coalition.

Tunisia was plunged into crisis following the assassination of a leftist politician on Feb. 6, which fueled anti-government demonstrations. Jebali offered to form a government of technocrats to run the country until new elections.

Tunisia sparked the region-wide Arab Spring uprisings after its people overthrew their dictator in January 2011, so its transition to democracy is being closely watched on the global scene.

Speaking after his resignation, Jebali said he would return to the job only if he was allowed to put together a government open to all parties.

But hardline members of Ennahda have refused to deal with certain opposition parties, particularly the right-of-center Tunisia Calls, which includes many members of the former regime.

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