Tunisian Politicians Quit Cabinet Amid Political Tensions

Ministers from the Tunisian president’s secularist party have pulled out of the Cabinet as the North African country grapples with political tensions.

“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 today.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jbeli had said he would form a new technocrat government after the assassination of a leading opposition figure. Jbeli’s push drew condemnation from the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, from which he hails.

The Feb. 6 killing of Democratic Patriots party leader Chukri Beleid, which his wife blamed on Ennahda, sparked clashes between thousands of protesters and the security forces. The assassination and unrest that followed marked the most serious crisis in Tunisia since protests more than two years ago began the so-called Arab Spring uprisings across the region. Jbeli and the secular president, Moncef Marzouki, condemned the assassination, urging Tunisians not to be dragged into violence.

“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.”

Jbeli said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television aired yesterday that he will step down if his attempt to form a technocratic government fails.

Thousands of people joined anti-government protests as Beleid was buried. Yesterday, thousands of Islamists staged rival rallies.

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