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Tunisian prime minister calls election in bid to quell unrest

Tunisia’s prime minister has called an election in a bid to ease tensions following the assassination of an opposition politician. Meanwhile, eight Tunisian soldiers have died in an ambush near the Algerian border.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh (pictured right) made the announcement on state television on Monday, following emergency Cabinet and security meetings chaired by the president, Moncef Marzouki.

"This government will stay in office: We are not clinging to power, but we have a duty and a responsibility that we will exercise to the end," the prime minister said, proposing a specific date for a general election.

"We think that the National Constituent Assembly will complete the electoral code by October 23 at the latest so elections can be held on December 17," he said, referring to work being done on drafting a new constitution, which he said was about 80 percent complete.

He also expressed confidence that the voters would re-elect his Islamist Ennahda party.

"The government is not incapable of calling for popular support to discover whether the people are with this government or with those who want to take it backwards towards the unknown," Larayedh said.

The move came in response to a wave of anti-government protests that followed the assassination of opposition politician Mohammed Brahmi on Thursday. Brahmi was the second opposition politician to be killed, after Chokri Belaid was gunned down outside his home in February.

The opposition have blamed the government for both assassinations. They have also called for it to be replaced with a government of national unity.

Thousands of protesters demonstrated outside of the parliament building in the capital, Tunis, on Monday, to demand that the government step down. The interior ministry, though, said there were also supporters of the government among the demonstrators.

December 17 is a significant date in Tunisia, as it was on that day in 2010 that fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself alive in the town of Sidi Bouzid, sparking the revolution that brought down the regime of longtime strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. There were also reports on Monday of clashes between anti-government demonstrators and police in Sidi Bouzid.

Attack on security forces

President Marzouki gave a televised statement late Monday to condemn a "terrorist attack" that claimed the lives of eight Tunisian soldiers. Gunmen ambushed the troops on Mount Chaambi near the Algerian border, according to state television.

"Our country is threatened. We are all targeted," Marzouki said. "We will have sacrifices and victims, but we find ways to win the victory over terrorism."

"I call on all politicians at this historic moment to stand for the nation and unite," he added.

Ten thousand protesters took to the streets in Tunis calling for the government's ouster in light of the terrorist attack, according to the news agency DPA.

"Tunisia is free, out with terrorism, out with Ghannouchi," protesters shouted, referring to the leader of the Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi.

kms, pfd/ccp (Reuters, AFP, AP)