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Tunisia crisis: Ruling Ennahda party resists move to dissolve government

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali is at odds with his own party, the ruling Ennadha Islamists, over whether to dissolve Tunisia's government following the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

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Protesters shout slogans in front of barbed wire during a rally outside the Interior Ministry in Tunis on Feb. 6, 2013. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

CAIRO, Egypt — Tunisia's ruling Ennadha party looks set to resist Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's move to dissolve the government.

Jebali, Ennadha's secretary general, announced late Wednesday that he would replace his cabinet with non-partisan technocrats until general elections could be held, following mass protests after the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Yet he "did not ask the opinion of his party," Ennahda's vice-president, Abdelhamid Jelassi, told Reuters.

"We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now," Jelassi said, adding that the party was in talks with other parties about forming a coalition government.

More from GlobalPost: Chokri Belaid assassinated in Tunisian capital

According to Reuters, at least three of Tunisia's biggest opposition parties have also rejected Jebali's plan, which calls for him to remain in office as caretaker prime minister.

GlobalPost Senior Correspondent for the Middle East and North Africa, Erin Cunningham, said Ennahda's resistance to the creation of a new technocratic government seems to play into secular criticism that the Islamist movement has so far rebuffed consensus-building in favor of slim majority rule.

"Ennahda forged a coalition government with liberal parties, but its failure to confront a growing movement of Islamist hardliners or embark on other serious reforms has contributed to a loss of confidence in the Ennahda government," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said that anger with the ruling regime is at its highest since Tunisia’s uprising in 2010, which paved the way for similar revolts across the Arab world.

"One key grievance is the inability or unwillingness to reform the long-hated security services that kept Tunisia’s former dictator in power," Cunningham added. "As religious-backed attacks against art galleries, hotels, and bars are on the rise, the Ennahda-controlled interior ministry has failed to crack down or arrest the culprits. Many Tunisians view the unreformed police force as simply a new political tool under the Islamist government."

Cunningham will be reporting from the funeral of the slain opposition leader in Tunisia on Friday.

Protests continue over the opposition leader's murder. Photos posted on Twitter showed crowds gathered outside the Interior Ministry building in the capital, Tunis:

Reports said police fired tear gas on protesters in Tunis and in the southern city of Gafsa.

Tunisia's main trade union has called a nationwide general strike on Friday, the day of Belaid's funeral, the Guardian reported, which makes it likely the unrest will continue into the weekend. The French embassy has announced it will close all French schools in Tunisia on Friday and Saturday in anticipation of further violence.

Several of Belaid's associates have accused Ennadha of direct involvement in his death, according to France 24. One of his friends told the network that Belaid had accused the Islamist party's "mercenaries" of attacking his secular, left-wing supporters, and said that the politician himself was beaten up last week.

Ennadha's leaders, including party founder Rachid Ghannouchi, have rejected the accusations and condemned Belaid's murder.

Belaid's widow, Besma Khalfaoui, who says she holds Ennahda and Ghannouchi "personally" responsible for assassinating her husband, has joined the protests over his death. Here she is making the victory sign at a protest in Tunis on Wednesday:

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130207/tunisia-crisis-ennahda-chokri-belaid