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Tunisia Panel Considers Potential Prime Ministers as Talks Start

A Tunisian panel is drawing up a shortlist of potential prime ministers to head a non-partisan cabinet, under a plan aimed at defusing political tensions.

The five-member committee identified eight names including former central bank chief Mustapha Kamel Nabli and former Social Affairs Minister Mohammed Nasser, according to a report late yesterday on Mosaique FM radio. No official announcement has been made.

Tunisian parties started national talks on Oct. 25 to form a non-party government after militant attacks and the killing of opposition leaders increased pressure on the Islamist-led cabinet to step down. The turmoil has hampered economic recovery more than two years after a popular uprising ended Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule.

“The democratic transition is taking too long,” Lotfi Zitoun, a senior official in the Islamist Ennahda party, which leads the current government, said in an interview in the capital Tunis. “It has shaken investors’ confidence.”

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said last week his government is ready to step down. Under a plan brokered by Tunisia’s main labor union, the incoming cabinet is due to oversee elections, while talks run in parallel on a new constitution.

Larayedh’s government has blamed militants from the Ansar Al Shariah group for the assassinations and a string of attacks on police. Clashes between security forces and unidentified gunmen last week killed nine people in the central Sidi Bouzid region.

“A continuation of the political deadlock and the weakening of the state on the security and economic level could trigger clashes in the areas where the central authority is absent,” Mourad Hattab, risk manager at Societe Tunisienne de Banque, said in an interview in Tunis.

The political turmoil led Standard & Poor’s to cut Tunisia’s rating by two grades in August, and warn that international financial support may wane.

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