Independents named as Tunisia foreign, defence ministers

The new coalition of Islamists, three secular parties and non-partisan figures aims to restore stability.

Independents named as Tunisia foreign, defence ministers

World Bulletin / News Desk

Independents will take over the foreign and defence ministries in Tunisia's new government under a deal by the ruling Islamist party to cede key portfolios following violent unrest over the assassination of a secular opposition leader.

The new coalition of Islamists, three secular parties and non-partisan figures aims to restore stability and prepare the troubled North African state, where the Arab Spring uprisings began in 2011, for elections later this year.

President Moncef Marzouki asked Interior Minister Ali Larayedh of the Islamist Ennahda party on Feb. 22 to form a government within 15 days after Ennahda Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned.

Coalition sources said Othman Jarandi, a former Tunisian ambassador to the United Nations, Oman, South Korea and Pakistan, had been named as foreign minister to capitalise on his strong ties with international bodies and the West.

"There is a preliminary agreement that Othman Jarandi will be foreign minister, and Abdelhak Lassoued will replace the current defence minister, Abdelkarim Zbidi, who wants to leave," a coalition source told Reuters. A second source confirmed the development but declined to give details.

Lassoued, 76, has not held a cabinet post before but served in the civil service under Tunisia's first post-independence president, Habib Bourguiba.

Ennahda said last week it would allow independent figures to take over key ministries in the next government in a concession to the non-Islamist opposition.

SOME CABINET HOLDOVERS

At least 10 members of Jebali's former cabinet will stay on, including Mohamed Ben Salem as agriculture minister and Samir Dilou as human rights minister - both members of Ennahda, as well as Culture Minister Mehdi Mabrouk, an independent.

Former businessman Elyess Fakhfakh, from secular party Ettakatol, would retain the post of finance minister in the new government, sources told Reuters.

Zbidi had held the defence portfolio since shortly after Tunisia's January 2011 popular revolution that ousted veteran dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Under Zbidi, the military helped keep public order while staying out of politics.

The new government will be under intense pressure to tackle high unemployment, raise wages and revive economic growth.

Last Mod: 05 Mart 2013, 20:32
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