Tunisia PM-designate unsure when new govt to be formed

Tunisian Prime Minister-designated Ali Larayedh said on Tuesday he did not know when he would be able to announce the formation of a new government, with only days left to finish the task.

Larayedh was speaking on the radio after parliamentary speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said in Paris he expects a new government to be formed "in the next 24 to 48 hours", even if disputes remain over portfolios and the political platform.

"I don't know," Larayedh said when asked by Shems-FM radio when the new team would be put together, as a Friday deadline looms. "Soon, God willing."

Larayedh also said that various names being mentioned by the media as possible ministers were "not reliable."

Meanwhile, the head of one possible coalition party, Wafa, told Radio Mosaique they had decided not to continue talks.

"We decided to quit the talks because no government programme has been decided and they are continuing to talk about (ministerial) porfolios, Slim Boukhdhir said without clarifying whether the party's withdrawal was definitive.

Tunisia is facing a grave political crisis after the February assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid, a vocal critic of the Islamist-led government.

That led to the resignation of prime minister Hamadi Jebali after he failed to forge a non-partisan government of technocrats when his ruling Islamist Ennahda party refused to back up his efforts to defuse the crisis.

While Ennahda has made a crucial concession in accepting that key ministries be entrusted to independent candidates, Ben Jaafar said that, in the negotiations underway, there was still disagreement over the names of the ministers.

But he said he hoped to see a government of competent people with "a minimum of partisan personalities."

He also said there were disputes over the political platform and stressed that in the current climate in Tunisia "security must be the priority with an administration that is neutral and firm against violence."

If a cabinet is not named by Friday, Ban Jaafar noted, then President Moncef Marzouk must choose another politician to try to form a government.