Tunisian leader to quit if Cabinet plan rejected

Protesters rallied in Tunis on Saturday, a day after the funeral for an opposition leader.
Protesters rallied in Tunis on Saturday, a day after the funeral for an opposition leader.

TUNIS — Tunisia’s Islamist prime minister said on Saturday he will resign if his proposal to appoint a nonpolitical Cabinet by midweek is rejected.

Prime Minister Hamadi ­Jebali called for that change on Wednesday after Tunisia was thrown into a crisis when an opposition politician was shot and killed in Tunis, touching off violent protests.

Supporters of the Ennahda party also protested Saturday, which was the third straight day of unrest in Tunisia.

Jebali’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party has already rejected his proposal. But he didn’t flinch, saying in an interview with the France-24 TV channel that to change the situation government ministers must be replaced by ones without a political affiliation, notably technocrats. ‘‘I feel obliged to save my country,’’ he said, adding that Tunisia risks a ‘‘swing into chaos.’’


If his new team is accepted, ‘‘I will continue to assume my role,’’ Jebali said. If not, he will withdraw from government.

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As Jabali spoke, several thousand progovernment protesters rallied on the main avenue of the capital. But outside Tunis, groups of youths threw stones at offices of the governing party and attacked police stations in several cities in scattered unrest.

The Interior Ministry said 230 people have been arrested since Friday, the day Chokri ­Belaid was buried. The slaying of the respected opposition figure unleashed anger, and his funeral drew hundreds of thousands of mourners chanting antigovernment slogans in Tunis.

Saturday was the third straight day of unrest in this North African country, which overthrew its long-ruling president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in January 2011, kicking off the Arab Spring revolutions.

With tension mounting, Jebali said that he will appoint a new Cabinet by midweek, saying it would be small, made up of technocrats and therefore neutral.


Jebali said key ministries, notably Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs, would not be excluded from the plan. Those ministries are currently led by members of his Ennahda party.

He called the planned chan­ges a ‘‘Cabinet reshuffle’’ that would avoid the complicated — and riskier — process of dissolving the government. Such a new government would need approval from Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly.

But under Tunisian law, each new Cabinet minister also would still need individual approval from the Assembly — where Jebali’s Ennahda party has a majority.

The shooting death Wednesday of Belaid, a lawyer and opposition figure, added to the growing turmoil in Tunisia, where the transition from dictatorship to democracy has been shaken by religious divides, political wrangling and economic struggles.