Tunisian Politicians Quit Cabinet as Violence Continues

Ministers from the Tunisian president’s secularist party have pulled out of the Cabinet, the latest step in an growing political crisis accompanied by street violence that threatens to upend the country’s democratic transition.

“The ministers of the Congress have resigned because the party’s demands that the justice and foreign ministers be changed haven’t been met,” Samir Ben Omar, a member of the Congress for the Republic Party’s executive committee, said by phone yesterday.

The resignations are another blow to the country’s already shaky coalition government following the assassination of a leading opposition figure on Feb. 6 and the threat two days ago by Prime Minister Hamadi Jbeli to resign if he isn’t allowed to form a new technocrat government.

Analysts said the resignation may in fact be a way to pre- empt the prime minister’s actions, since a technocratic government, which Islamist Jbeli has said is needed to restore confidence in the political system, would leave the Congress for the Republic Party out of government in any case.

“The resignations are a pre-emptive strike in anticipation of Jbeli dropping them from the Cabinet,” Salem Labyad, a professor at the University of Tunis, said by phone. “The Congress’s decision will have no effect or political ramifications as Jbeli is insisting on forming a technocrat government.”

Assassination

The assassination of Chukri Beleid, the prominent leader of the leftist Democratic Patriots party, set off waves of protests that in some areas has disintegrated into pillaging and violence. Over the weekend, 80 youths armed with stones and clubs attacked a police station and other security posts in the city of Zaghouan, west of Tunis, according to the Associated Press.

The events marked the most serious crisis in Tunisia since protests more than two years ago began the so-called Arab Spring uprisings across the region. Belaid’s wife has blamed her husband’s killing on Islamist Ennahda, the prime minister’s party. Jbeli and the secular president, Moncef Marzouki, condemned the assassination, urging Tunisians not to be dragged into violence.

Jbeli’s plan to form a technocratic government was disavowed by other leaders of Ennahda. The prime minister said in an interview with Al Jazeera television broadcast Feb. 9 that he will step down if his attempt to form a technocratic government this week fails.

Prior to the killing, Tunisia’s political transformation, which began in December 2010, had been touted as a model for a coalition between secular and Islamist political forces.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jihen Laghmari in Cairo at jlaghmari@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Digby Lidstone at dlidstone@bloomberg.net

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