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October 27, 2011

Tunisia's Islamist Party Begins to Form Coalition Government

Tunisia's newly elected Ennahda party has begun talks with rival parties on forming a coalition government, a day after winning the most seats in the country's first free elections.

Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi said Friday his Islamist party would work to form a new government in "friendliness" and "brotherhood."

This comes as fresh protests erupted against the Ennahda party Friday. Media say security forces fired shots into the air and tear gas at demonstrators who tried to raid the Ennahda party's headquarters in the central city of Sidi Bouzid.

The protests began on Thursday after election officials invalidated seats won by the rival Popular List party, citing campaign violations.

In his remarks Friday, Ghannouchi called for calm.

A government spokesman told the French news agency (AFP) a curfew would be implemented in Sidi Bouzid from Friday night to Saturday morning (local time).

Sidi Bouzid is the birthplace of the popular uprising that ousted longtime President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and ignited the Arab Spring protests that have transformed the region.

Election officials announced the final results on Thursday, four days after Tunisians voted. The Ennahda party took 90 of 217 assembly seats, three times the number won by its nearest rival.

Ennahda secured more than 41 percent of the vote and will dominate the constituent assembly.  The assembly has been tasked with writing a new constitution, appointing a president and forming a caretaker government.

The center-left Congress for the Republic (CPR), a secular party, placed second with 30 seats. The  Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties - or Ettakatol - came in third with 21 seats.

Those two liberal parties have launched negotiations with Ennahda, which had been banned for decades under the previous government.

Tunisia's landmark election was widely considered free and fair. Sunday's vote came a little more than nine months after Tunisians overthrew Ben Ali.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.

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