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Islamists protest in Tunis to bolster ruling party

Islamists protest in Tunis to bolster ruling party

Tunis: Activists from Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda gathered Saturday to protest their movement's legitimacy and denounce plans for a government of technocrats aimed at resolving a major crisis.

Dozens of protesters, many sporting beards and waving party flags and banners, demonstrated on Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a Tunis boulevard that was the cradle of the 2011 uprising that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"Supporting Ennahda is a duty," they shouted, also jeering ex-premier Beji Caid Essebsi and the secular opposition party Call of Tunisia which he heads, and which portrays itself as an alternative to the ruling Islamists.

The gathering comes ahead of a mass rally planned for 1300 GMT and called by Ennahda to denounce Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali's plan to form a government of technocrats in a bid to resolve Tunisia's worst political crisis since the revolution.

Jebali, Ennahda's number two, announced his plan to form a non-partisan government in the wake of public outrage over the killing of leftist leader Chokri Belaid, who was gunned down outside his home on February 6.

Belaid's assassination sparked bloody clashes between opposition protesters and police and attacks on Ennahda offices.

The violence plunged Tunisia into further turmoil after months of failure to overhaul the government, while also laying bare divisions within the ruling party.

The prime minister has threatened to resign if he fails to get the support he needs to form his new government.

After meeting the leaders of the main political parties yesterday, Jebali said talks on the new administration had been rescheduled for Monday and that a previous Saturday deadline for its formation had been cancelled, with no new date set.

Ennahda was repressed under Ben Ali's regime but emerged as a powerful political force after his overthrow in January 2011, with its veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi returning from 20 years in exile to a hero's welcome.


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