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Tunisia's Larayedh to take office as street vendor buried

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

New Islamist premier Ali Larayedh was to take office on Thursday faced with the task of ending the crisis gripping Tunisia, as the funeral of a street vendor who burned himself to death turned into an anti-Islamist protest.

Adel Khazri, 27, was laid to rest in the impoverished town of Souk Jemaa in northwestern Tunisia, with several hundred mourners joining the funeral procession, chanting "Ennahda, get out!" in reference to Larayedh's ruling Islamist party.

Khazri, who supported his family by selling contraband cigarettes, set fire to himself on Tuesday on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis, focal point of the mass uprising that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

His death revived the haunting memory of Mohamed Bouazizi, another street vendor whose self-immolation in December 2011 in protest at his precarious living conditions sparked the Tunisian uprising.

Larayedh was to formally assume the post of prime minister from Hamadi Jebali at 1500 GMT, a day after winning parliament's approval for his new government, with Thursday's funeral a stark reminder of the problems it faces.

The new cabinet, an awkward alliance between the dominant Islamist party Ennahda, two secular parties and independent technocrats, was "not entitled to make mistakes," one newspaper warned.

Larayedh's coalition received 139 votes, or 30 more than needed, in Wednesday's parliamentary session, which came weeks after Jebali quit after failing to form a new government in a bid to defuse tensions caused by the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

French-language daily Le Quotidien said the new premier's "intentions are good" but in his policy speech Larayedh "only repeated the desire for slogans and objectives without presenting a specific political programme."

La Presse, another daily, said the government had to pull Tunisia out of a "vicious circle," and must "relaunch investment to create jobs, with unemployment creating the instability in the country that is deterring investors."

Tunisia is struggling to revive its economy and confront the social woes afflicting it two years after the revolution that toppled ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, with unemployment and poverty still major sources of discontent.

The revolution badly affected the economy, paralysing the strategic tourism sector, although Ennahda has claimed credit for bringing the country out of recession, with 3.6 percent growth registered in 2012.

Unemployment stands at about 17 percent, and is especially high among young graduates.

Larayedh has promised to resolve Tunisia's institutional crisis this year, by ensuring the adoption of a new constitution and organising elections, while creating the conditions for an economic recovery and the re-establishment of security.

In a brief interview with AFP on Wednesday, Larayedh said the principle threats facing Tunisia were "terrorism" and social unrest.

"The main danger to national security is terrorism, whether it comes from abroad or from inside the country," he said, adding that another threat was "social violence fed by politics."

In addition to economic hardships and the political turmoil caused by killing of Belaid, an outspoken critic of the ruling Islamists, a wave of violence blamed on hardline Salafists has rocked Tunisia since the revolution.

The authorities have accused the radical Islamists of Belaid's murder and made a number of arrests, but the suspected killer remains at large.

Tunisia, meanwhile, remains without a fixed political system because of a lack of consensus between the main parties, with Ennahda pushing for a pure parliamentary system while others are demanding that the president retain key powers.

Parliament is due to vote on a timetable for the adoption of a new constitution, after a proposal was submitted on Monday that the charter be adopted in July, and elections held in October.

But some have insisted those dates are unrealistic, given previous failures.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130314/tunisias-larayedh-take-office-street-vendor-buried