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Tunisia's Ruling Islamists, Opposition Suspend Talks

Rached Ghannouchi (C), leader of Ennahda Party, speaks to the media after a meeting, as part of a dialogue between ruling Islamists and the opposition, which aims to pave the way for the formation of a transitional government, in Tunis, Nov. 2, 2013.
Tunisia's ruling Islamists and opposition parties suspended talks on Monday over forming a new caretaker government to end the country's crisis after the two sides failed to agree on naming a prime minister.

It was not clear when negotiations would restart, but the suspension was a blow to hopes of a quick end to political deadlock in a country whose 2011 uprising inspired the “Arab Spring” revolts across the region.

Tunisia's Islamist-led government has already agreed to step down later this month to make way for a temporary administration that will govern until elections, but the two sides remain deeply split over details of their agreement.

“They were unable to reach a consensus over the prime minister. The dialogue has been suspended until there is solid ground for negotiations,” said Hussein Abassi, leader of the powerful UGTT union that brokered the talks.

He said the union may propose names for the premier if moderate ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the opposition were unable to reach agreement.

Since an uprising ousted autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali nearly three years ago, Tunisia has struggled with a widening division over the role of Islam in one of the most secular countries in the Muslim world.

But the assassination of two secular opposition leaders this year by Islamist militants sparked protests by opposition parties who demanded Ennahda resign in part because it was too soft on hardliner fundamentalists pushing for an Islamic state.

Recent militant clashes with police and a suicide bomber at a beach resort last week underscored the rise of hard-line Islamists in Tunisia.

Ennahda and the opposition must still negotiate over a date for new elections and the composition of an electoral board and finish work on the country's new constitution before Ennahda steps down later this month.