Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat-Tunisian Prime Minster, Hamadi Jebali, vowed to resign yesterday, if his proposal to appoint a nonpolitical Cabinet by mid-week is rejected.
The Islamist Prime Minster called for the change on Wednesday after a prominent opposition politician was shot and killed, sparking off violent protests.
The Prime Minister’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party has already rejected his proposal. But he didn’t flinch, saying in an interview with the France-24 TV channel that to change the situation government ministers must be replaced by ones without a political affiliation, notably technocrats. “I feel obliged to save my country,” he said, adding that Tunisia risks a “swing into chaos.” Opposition leader, Chokri Belaid was killed by an unidentified gunman on Wednesday, making it Tunisia’s first such political assassination in decades.
Belaid’s family has accused the ruling Islamist party Ennahda of responsibility for his killing. The party denies any hand in it.
‘We intend to begin judicial action to sue all those who accuse Mr Rached al-Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party, be they politicians or journalists who are exploiting the blood of the deceased for narrow political ends at the expense of the truth’, Rached Gannouchi, the head of Ennahda, said in a statement on Saturday.
Meanwhile, thousands of Islamists marched in Tunis yesterday in a show of strength, a day after Belaid’s funeral.
About 6,000 supporters of the ruling Ennahda movement rallied to back their leader Rachid al-Ghannouchi, who was the target of angry slogans raised by mourners at Friday’s mass funeral.
“The people want Ennahda again,” the Islamists chanted, waving Tunisian and party flags as they marched towards the Interior Ministry on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in the city center.
The demonstration was dwarfed by the tens of thousands who had turned out in Tunis and other cities to honor Belaid and to protest against the Islamist-led government the day before, shouting slogans that included “We want a new revolution”.
“We are here to support legitimacy, but if you prefer the power of the street, look at the streets today, we have this power,” Lotfi Zitoun, an Ennahda leader, said in a speech to the Islamist demonstrators in Tunis.
Tunisia’s political transition has been more peaceful than those in other Arab nations such as Egypt, Libya and Syria, but tensions are running high between Islamists elected to power and liberals who fear the loss of hard-won liberties.
Secular groups have accused the Islamist-led government of a lax response to attacks by ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamists on cinemas, theatres, bars and individuals in recent months.
Prolonged political uncertainty and street unrest could damage an economy that relies on tourism. Unemployment and other economic grievances fuelled the revolt against Ben Ali in 2011.
Tunisia’s stock exchange has fallen 3.32 percent since Belaid’s assassination.
France, the former colonial power, ordered its schools in Tunis to stay closed on Friday and Saturday, warning its nationals to stay clear of potential flashpoints in the capital.
Some of the Islamist demonstrators shouted “France, out”, in response to remarks by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls which were rejected by Jebali, the prime minister, on Friday.