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Tunisia remains on edge as coalition discussions begin

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi will today try to form a national coalition, bringing an end to days of tensions.

Palestinians wave Tunisian and Palestinian flags, and a portrait of deposed President Ben Ali, during a solidarity march in Gaza City yesterday.
Palestinians wave Tunisian and Palestinian flags, and a portrait of deposed President Ben Ali, during a solidarity march in Gaza City yesterday.
Image: Hatem Moussa/AP

TUNISIA’S PRIME MINISTER will today commence attempts to form a national coalition government, in moves aimed at ending the days of tensions in the African country which saw president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali flee to Dubai on Friday.

The moves come after the country’s new interim president, former parliamentary speaker Fouad Mebazaa, appealed for national unity to restore calm to the country following weeks of unrest which violently boiled over last week.

In a brief statement last night, Mohamed Ghannouchi said he would “announce the new government, which will open a new page in the history of Tunisia”, later today.

That coalition will remain in power, the Guardian states, for a maximum of 60 days before constitutionally required elections.

Ghannouchi’s statement had followed the insistence of opposition leaders that the first political priority was to “stop all this disorder”.

Vicious protests over the state of the country’s economy and its growing unemployment rate, which Businessweek forecasts to reach 13.1% this year, had picked up speed late last week – ultimately leading Ben Ali to leave the country, becoming the first Arab leader in 26 years to be forced out by popular unrest.

Armed exchanges continued in Tunis yesterday, as security officials remaining loyal to Ben Ali exchanged fire with special forces near the presidential palace, which has been heavily ransacked over the weekend.

The New York Times reports that the military’s role in the coming weeks will be crucial, with its success in keeping peace playing a major part in whether “a new autocrat, or the first Arab democracy” emerges from the political vacuum.

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Gavan Reilly

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