Tunisian PM offers to resign if new Cabinet rejected


Mon, Feb 11, 2013 - Page 3

Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali said on Saturday that he would resign if his proposal to appoint a nonpolitical Cabinet by the middle of the week is rejected.

Jebali first called for that change on Wednesday after Tunisia was thrown into a crisis when a prominent opposition politician was shot and killed in Tunis, touching off violent protests.

Jebali’s moderate Islamist an-Nahda party has already rejected his proposal, but the prime minister did not 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.”

If his new team is accepted, “I will continue to assume my role,” Jebali said.

If not, he will withdraw from the government, he said.

As Jabali spoke, several thousand pro-government protesters rallied on the main avenue of the capital. However, outside Tunis, groups of youths threw stones at offices of the governing party and attacked police stations in several cities in scattered unrest.

The Ministry of the Interior said 230 people, aged 16 to 25, have been arrested since Friday, the day Chokri Belaid was buried.

The slaying of the respected opposition figure unleashed anger, and his funeral drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting anti-government slogans in Tunis.

Saturday was the third straight day of unrest in the north African country, which overthrew its long-ruling president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January 2011, sparking the Arab Spring revolutions.

With tensions mounting, Jebali said he would appoint a new Cabinet by the middle of the week, adding that it would be small, made up of technocrats and therefore neutral. He said that key ministries, notably interior, justice and foreign affairs, would not be spared. Those ministries are currently led by ministers from his an-Nahda party.

He called the planned changes a “Cabinet reshuffle” that would avoid the complicated — and riskier — process of dissolving the government. Such a new government would need approval from Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly.

However, under Tunisian law, each new Cabinet minister will also need individual approval from the Assembly — where Jebali’s an-Nahda party has a majority.