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Tunisia political dialogue to start Saturday

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Direct negotiations between Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda and the opposition to resolve a months-old political crisis sparked by the assassination of an opposition MP will begin on Saturday, mediators announced Thursday.

"The national dialogue meeting will take place next Saturday at the Palais des Congres" in Tunis, the country's main UGTT trade union said on its Facebook page.

Ennahda confirmed that a date to begin the talks had finally been agreed, after its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, met UGTT's secretary general Houcine Abassi.

"The national dialogue will start on Saturday with the participation of all the parties represented in the National Constituent Assembly," it said.

Opposition parties, like the Islamists, say they have accepted the blueprint drafted by the mediators -- the UGTT, employers' organisation Utica, the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the bar association -- to resolve the crisis triggered by the July 25 murder of Mohamed Brahmi.

The roadmap sets a three-week deadline to form a cabinet of independents to replace the government, after the launch of a dialogue with opposition parties.

It also sets a four-week deadline for adopting a new electoral law, announcing a timetable for fresh elections and completing a long-delayed draft constitution.

These thorny issues have sharply divided supporters and critics of the ruling Islamists, holding up the formation of stable state institutions more than two and a half years after the revolution in 2011 that touched off the Arab Spring.

Despite agreeing to the roadmap in principle, Ennahda warned that the government would not step down until a new cabinet was ready to take over, while the opposition has insisted on its immediate resignation.

Political activity in Tunisia has ground to a halt since Brahmi's murder. It, like the assassination six months earlier of another secular MP, Chokri Belaid, was blamed on radical Salafists.

The opposition says Ennahda has not done enough to rein in Islamist militants, whose influence has grown since the uprising that toppled veteran president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and has not improved economic conditions.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131003/tunisia-political-dialogue-start-saturday