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Tunisian President's Party to Quit Government

Several thousand supporters of Tunisia's ruling moderate Islamist party rally in a pro-government demonstration in the capital Tunis, February 9, 2013.
The secular party of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki says it will withdraw from the country's Islamist-led coalition government in anger at its handling of the fallout from last week's assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

The killing - Tunisia's first political assassination in decades - has thrown the government and country into turmoil, widening rifts between the dominant Islamist Ennahda party and its secular foes.

An official from the center-left Congress for the Republic party, or CPR, said Sunday the group had warned it would quit the government if the foreign and justice ministers are not replaced. He said the ministers from the party, which Marzouki founded, would formally resign on Monday.

CPR has criticized the performance of the two ministers, one of whom, Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, is the son-in-law of Ennahda party leader Rachid Ghannouchi.

Ennahda dominated Tunisia's first free elections. Marzouki's party and the secular Ettakatol party also hold some government seats.

Belaid was one of Ennahda's most outspoken critics and his murder has sparked calls for a new government.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, a member of Ennahda's moderate wing, has proposed a new government of non-political technocrats. But the Ennahda party leadership rejected the idea. A key party council is meeting Sunday to discuss the situation.

Fringe violence by radical Islamists has mounted in Tunisia, and Ennahda's secular critics accuse the party of turning a blind eye to attacks by ultraconservative Salafi Muslims on liquor stores, art exhibits or anyone deemed impious.

The country was relatively quiet Sunday after three days of nationwide protests following Belaid's death. Riot police patrolled the streets of the capital, Tunis.