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Political Crisis Deepens In Tunisia As Jihadis Kill 8 Soldiers

By Countercurrents.org

30 July, 2013

Jihadis killed at least eight Tunisian soldiers on July 29, 2013, staging the biggest attack on the security forces in decades as political tensions rose between supporters and opponents of the Islamist-led government. The political crisis in the country has deepened with anti-government protests, the resignation of Education Minister Salem Labiadh and a walkout by 70 lawmakers.

Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki called the ambush on soldiers on Mount Chaambi, near the Algerian border, a "terrorist attack." "We have entered the period of terrorism. We are going to pass through a difficult period", Marzouki said in a televised address.

Tunisian troops have been trying to track down Islamist militants in the remote region since December.

Thousands of people took to the streets in the town of al-Qasreen, near the site of the Islamist militant attack on the army. Many of the protesters were demanding the government's ouster.

Even more serious for the government is the possible breaking apart of the governing coalition. The left-of-center party Ettakatol wants to withdraw from the coalition and dissolve the government. That would leave the Islamist Ennahda party that dominates the coalition even more isolated.

The secular Ettakatol, a junior coalition partner, called on the Islamist Ennahda to step down, saying a new administration representing a wider consensus was necessary. "If Ennahda rejects this proposal, we will withdraw from the government," said Lobni Jribi, a party leader.

Prime minister Ali Larayedh ignored the calls to create a new unity government. However, in a concession to opposition groups, Larayedh announced elections would be held on Dec. 17.

Larayedh’s fiery speech, in which he called those wanting to dissolve the government “anarchists” and “opportunists,” is unlikely to appease an angry opposition.
The opposition may be able to mobilize Tunisians further against the Islamist-led government after the Jihadis’ ambush, which has shocked the country and increased anti-government sentiment on social media.

Many people joining the growing street protests have expressed anger at the country's instability and economic stagnation. Others are frustrated that the constitution, originally promised one year after the 2011 uprising, has yet to be completed and are suspicious of the transitional government.

Tunisians fear they may be sliding into one of the worst crises in their political transition since autocratic leader Ben Ali was forced to flee during a 2011 uprising that set off revolts across the Arab world.

Instability has been rising during the political chaos. Last week, the capital, Tunis, was hit by its first-ever car bomb.

After clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters on July 29, the army sealed off the main Bardo square in the capital with barbed wire and declared it a "closed military zone."

Protests aimed at ousting the government intensified last week after the second assassination of a politician from the secular opposition in six months. The government blamed Islami militants for both attacks, but the opposition holds Ennahda responsible, arguing that its leadership has not done enough to investigate and crack down on militant attacks.

Divisions are growing between the opposition and Ennahda supporters, who are determined to avoid an Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood fate.

This week the opposition rejected all concessions and efforts at reconciliation by Ennahda, arguing that its leaders bumbled for too long and that their time was up. The opposition is planning to create a rival "salvation government."

A Constituent Assembly is still weeks away from completing a long-delayed draft constitution to be put to a referendum.

The secular opposition has called for the dissolution of the 217-member Assembly. Already the 70 lawmakers who have left the body have started a sit-in protest outside the parliament building.

For the last few days, thousands of people are demonstrating in front of the parliament building demanding dissolution of the constituent assembly along with the government.





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