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February 22, 2013

Islamist Party in Tunisia Chooses New Prime Minister

by VOA News

Tunisia's new prime minister-designate has promised to form a cabinet representing all Tunisians as political leaders try to smooth over a growing political crisis.

Interior Minister Ali Larayedh, a member of Tunisia's ruling Islamist party, was chosen as prime minister-designate by his peers Thursday. He has been tasked with forming a government within two weeks.

His fellow party member, Hamadi Jebali, stepped down as prime minister on Tuesday after discussions with President Moncef Marzouki. Jebali said his own Ennahda party had rejected his plan for a government of technocrats.

Jebali had announced his push for a non-partisan government February 6, just hours after secularist leader Chokri Belaid was shot to death outside his home in the capital, Tunis.

Belaid's supporters had accused the Ennadha political coalition of being behind the killing, a charge the ruling party denies.  

Larayedh spent 15 years in prison under the previous regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and is largely seen as a moderate member of the party.

Tunisia was the epicenter of the 2011 Arab Spring protest movement that swept through North Africa and led to the ouster of President  Ben Ali and later to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Analysts say the current deadlock has left the North African country paralyzed and vulnerable to more violence that authorities fear could come from hardline Islamist Salafists.