Tunisia's Larayedh unveils new cabinet

Premier-designate Ali Larayedh on Friday unveiled Tunisia's new coalition government after reaching a last-minute deal aimed at ending a major political crisis, with independents given key portfolios in a clear concession by Islamists.

"I presented to the president the dossier containing the list of the new government and a summary of the government programme," Larayedh, a member of the powerful Islamist Ennahda party, said on television.

The announcement, just hours before a midnight deadline, came after two weeks of fraught discussions and amid tensions and uncertainty sparked by the killing last month of leftist anti-Islamist politician Chokri Belaid.

Larayedh said the new team, made up from parties of the outgoing coalition and independents, will step down at the end of the year after legislative and presidential elections are held.

Key portfolios -- which had been at the centre of a tug of war between Islamists and the opposition -- were given to independent candidates little known by most Tunisians.

Prosecutor Lotfi Ben Jeddou will head the interior ministry, while veteran diplomat Othman Jarandi will head the foreign ministry. Rachid Sabagh becomes the new defence minister while the justice ministry goes to Nadhir Ben Ammou.

These appointments reflect a key concession by outgoing ruling party Ennahda to hand key ministries to non-partisan figures while parties in the outgoing coalition got less sensitive posts.

The Islamist party said on its official Twitter account that 48 percent of portfolios in the new government are now held by independents with Ennahda in control of 28 percent, compared to 40 in the outgoing government.

"We expect that the government line-up will receive the confidence" of parliament, Larayedh said.

Ennahda controls control 109 out of 217 seats in the National Constituent Assembly -- the necessary majority to approve the new cabinet -- along with its secular partners in the previous coalition: President Moncef Marzouki's Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol.

Larayedh said the new line-up would work "to the end of 2013 at the latest," on the assumption that a new constitution has been adopted and legislative and presidential elections held in the meantime.

He declined to speculate on when the elections would be held, saying that was a prerogative of the assembly, but suggested they could be in October-November.

Larayedh, the outgoing interior minister, was tapped on February 22 to head a new cabinet, with a deadline of midnight on Friday for him to present his team and government programme to Marzouki.

Late on Thursday the premier-designate announced that a deal had been reached "after marathon negotiations" on a political programme for the new government that would guide its priorities, policies and commitments.

Dashing the hopes of Larayedh to form a broad coalition, three political parties withdrew from the talks Thursday leaving Ennahda, the Congress for the Republic and Ettakatol alone in discussing the formation of the new cabinet.

Tunisia has been mired in political crisis since leftist politician Belaid, a vocal critic of the Islamist-led government, was gunned down outside his home in Tunis on February 6.

His murder led to the resignation of prime minister Hamadi Jebali after he failed to forge a non-partisan government of technocrats when Ennahda refused to support his efforts.

In addition to the political upheaval, violence and attacks blamed on the ultra-conservative Muslim Salafist movement have rocked Tunisia in recent months.

The country has also been plagued by social unrest linked to unemployment and poverty -- key factors behind the mass uprising that toppled ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 and touched off the Arab Spring.

Ennahda is deeply mistrusted by a large section of the secular opposition, which accuses it of authoritarian tendencies and of trying to bring about the Islamisation of Tunisian society.

After the president reviews Larayedh's plan for a new cabinet, the line-up must be approved by the national assembly within three days.