Tunisian lawmakers approve new government line-up

Tunisia's lawmakers approved on Wednesday a new government formed to pull the country out of a deep political and economic crisis, as an impoverished vendor died after setting himself alight.

Premier-designate Ali Larayedh's broadly based coalition of his own Islamist party Ennahda, two secular parties and independents received 139 votes, or 30 more than needed, in a parliamentary session broadcast on television.

Another 45 MPs voted against, 13 abstained and 20 were absent from the session, which ended with the singing of the national anthem and shouts of "loyal to the blood of the martyrs" of the January 2011 revolution that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Larayedh's success was overshadowed by the death of Adel Khadri, 27, who torched himself a day earlier and who medics said had died early on Wednesday as a result of severe burns.

Just before the vote, Larayedh commented on Khadri's death, calling it a "sad incident" and saying "I hope we understood the message."

Witnesses quoted Khadri as shouting: "This is a young man who sells cigarettes because of unemployment," before setting himself on fire in Tunis.

Officials said Khadri, from a very poor family in the northwestern locality of Jendoubam, had arrived in the capital a few months ago to look for work.

The number of people committing suicide or attempting to has multiplied since young street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on December 17, 2010, in a drastic act of protest against police harassment.

His self-immolation in the town of Sidi Bouzid ignited a mass uprising that ousted Ben Ali the following month and touched off the Arab Spring uprisings.

Economic and social difficulties were the key factors that brought down Ben Ali's regime and two years since he fled to Saudi Arabia, unemployment and poverty still plague the North African country.

The economy was badly affected by the revolution, which paralysed the strategic tourism sector, although the country is out of recession and posted 3.6 percent growth in 2012.

The unemployment rate is about 17 percent, and is especially high among young graduates.

In addition to economic hardships, Tunisia is grappling with a political crisis exacerbated by the assassination last month of Chokri Belaid, a leftist opposition leader.

The country is still without a fixed political system due to a lack of consensus between the main parties.

Ennahda, which led the previous coalition, is pushing for a pure parliamentary system while others are demanding the president retain key powers.

Larayedh said on Tuesday he was determined that his government would serve until year end, stressing his priorities were to organise elections, deal with unemployment and the cost of living.

The new cabinet was formed as part of efforts to resolve the political impasse, which last month brought down the government of Hamadi Jabali.

Lawmakers in the National Constituent Assembly are also to vote on a timetable for the adoption of a new constitution, with a proposed date to vote on the charter in July and hold legislative elections in October.