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Tunisian assembly closes down, awaits talks between government and opposition

As opposition supporters gathered in Tunis to mark the anniversary of a slain politician’s death, Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly convened and suspended its work. The head of the assembly called for dialog.

Members of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly met Tuesday for the first time since one of its members was killed on July 25. The delegates were thought to be just weeks away from finishing a draft constitution and electoral law to help foster a democratic era in Tunisia and usher in new elections.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh attended the gathering in order to urge the assembly to finish its legal work for imposing order on politics as well as security.

“I call on the Constituent Assembly to hurry and finish the constitution quickly and to complete all of its other tasks by October 23,” Larayedh said.

Within hours, however, assembly head Mustafa Ben Jaafar suspended the body’s work until after the Islamist-led government and secular opposition open a dialog.

Watch video 00:29

Tunisians pressure government

"I assume my responsibility as president of the ANC (assembly) and suspend its work until the start of a dialogue, in the service of Tunisia," he said on state television.

"I call on everybody to take part in dialogue," said Ben Jaafar, whose Ettakatol party has not resigned from the cabinet but called for a new government team to be formed.

Door to talks opens

The Popular Front opposition coalition had rallied on Tuesday for the assembly's dissolution, having vowed to hold its largest rally to date. They gathered in memory of Chokri Belaid, a politician killed six months ago.

Tuesday’s and recent protests were reignited when another politician, parliamentarian Mohamed Brahmi, was murdered last month. Thousands of secular opposition supporters have been demonstrating outside parliament in Tunis since the assassination. Sixty opposition deputies are also in the midst of a sit-in there.

While Tunisia was the first Arab nation to overthrow an authoritarian leader with protests in 2011 and hold democratic elections, it is now battling political and security woes.

Tunisia's government blames Islamist radicals for the deaths of the politicians, but the men’s families and their supporters point blame at the Ennahda party, which has shown an ambivalent attitude toward extremists.

The secular opposition had been refusing to hold talks with the government unless it stepped down, while the Ennahda Party ruled out any dialogue conditional on its ouster. The latest development, therefore, may open the door to negotiations.

While most of the focus has been on opposition voices, government supporters have also taken to the streets in recent days. Tens of thousands, for example, accused the opposition of attempting an Egypt-style "coup" while rallying on Saturday.

tm/slk (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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