Tunisia's largest labor union called on Tuesday for the dissolution of the Islamist-led government, increasing pressure on the moderate Ennahda party in the worst political crisis since the country's autocratic leader was toppled.
The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) said a technocrat government should replace the one led by Ennahda, which has defied growing calls to resign by a secular opposition emboldened by the overthrow of the Islamist leader in Egypt.
The protests against the government in a country that led the first of the Arab Spring revolutions grew on Tuesday, when gunmen killed eight soldiers near the Algerian border in one of the bloodiest attacks on Tunisian troops in decades.
"The UGTT calls for dissolving the current government and creating a technocrat government led by an independent figure," secretary Hussein Abbassi said in statement. "We consider this government incapable of continuing its work."
Tunisians fear the return of political chaos just two years after autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee during an uprising that set off revolts across the Middle East called the Arab Spring.
The UGTT is a powerful force in Tunisia, with around 600,000 members it can call on to strike.
Opposition leaders have been trying to court the group to support its calls to oust the government and dissolve the transitional Constituent Assembly, tasked with creating a draft constitution.
Ennahda, which was democratically elected, has remained defiant despite increasingly violent and widespread protests. On Monday, one of its junior coalition partners, the secular Ettakatol, threatened to resign if a new unity government was not formed.
The opposition, angered by two assassinations in its ranks and emboldened by the Egyptian army's ouster of Mohamed Morsi, has taken a hard stance in recent days. It is refusing several concessions and power sharing proposals offered by Ennahda's governing coalition.
The UGTT said that while it supported the call for a new government it would not back dissolving the Constituent Assembly, which is only weeks away from completing a draft constitution to put to popular referendum.
Opposition critics have argued that dissolving the Assembly and its draft constitution would risk even more long term political instability.
"We propose maintaining the Constituent Assembly but ... with a time frame to speed up completion of its work," Abbassi said. "We will be proposing this to all political parties because there is a need to clear the political bottleneck in this country."