Tunisia hopes new leaders can calm nation’s tension

Tunisians shouted antigovernment slogans after a street vendor set himself on fire.
Tunisians shouted antigovernment slogans after a street vendor set himself on fire.

TUNIS — Tunisian lawmakers approved a new government Wednesday that the dominant Islamist party hopes will quell tensions over the killing of an opposition leader and a resurgence in religious activity.

The easy approval was overshadowed by the death of a young street vendor who set himself on fire in apparent desperation over his failure to find a steady job, an act that reminded Tunisians of a similar incident that sparked street revolts that kicked off Arab Spring uprisings here and elsewhere in 2011. It also underscored that many of the disparities that led to their longtime dictator’s ouster two years ago remain unresolved.

The new prime minister pledged to reduce violence and boost the economy.


‘‘I hope that we all understood the message’’ about poverty and unemployment in the young man’s action, Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said.

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Tunisia has struggled to stabilize itself since the overthrow of authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. The Tunisian uprising began with protests in support of a street vendor who had set himself on fire to protest corruption, repression, and unemployment.

The Islamist party Ennahda dominated Tunisia’s first free elections but is criticized for not cracking down on violence by religious extremists and for failing to revive the economy.

Larayedh’s predecessor resigned after last month’s killing of a vocal critic of Ennahda, a startling attack that set off riots around the North African country and plunged it into crisis.

In a concession to the opposition, Larayedh named a new government that includes several respected figures not aligned with any party.


Ennahda lawmakers have the most seats in the assembly.

Larayedh pledged to speed up work toward elections and a new constitution for Tunisia. The assembly president, Mustapha Ben Jafar, proposed setting the elections for Oct. 27.

The new prime minister promised to ‘‘combat violence wherever it comes from and whatever color it is.’’

The United States noted somewhat improved security in Tunisia and said in a new travel warning Wednesday that it is boosting staff at the US Embassy in Tunis after having ordered most nonessential employees to leave last year. Still, it said US government personnel have limited ability to reach travelers or provide emergency services ‘‘because of the unpredictability of the security situation.’’

The overarching challenge for Tunisia’s new government will be improving the economy. Unemployment is at 17 percent — and higher among young people — and inflation is at 6 percent.