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Tunisia Seeks New Prime Minister To Escape Political Crisis

Tunisian leaders began the search for a new prime minister on Wednesday to try to lead the North African nation out of its gravest political crisis since an uprising that inspired a wave of Arab revolts two years ago.
President Moncef Marzouki was due to consult the leader of the main Islamist Ennahda party on who should lead the next government, a day after Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned.

Jebali quit after his plan for an apolitical technocrat cabinet to prepare for elections failed. He had proposed it after the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid on February 6 shocked Tunisia and widened Islamist-secular rifts.

Eventually it was Jebali's own Ennahda party that scuppered the idea, extending a political impasse that has cast a shadow over Tunisia's fledgling democracy and its ailing economy.

"The crisis deepens," ran the headline in the independent Assarih newspaper, which said Ennahda's efforts to keep its cabinet posts and the collapse of Jebali's initiative had "returned the country to square one".

Tunisia began a transition to democracy after the peaceful overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, electing a National Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution, and then forging a deal under which the moderate Ennahda party agreed to share power with its secular rivals.

But disputes have delayed the constitution and the failure to tackle unemployment and poverty in a country that relies on tourism has dismayed many Tunisians and led to frequent unrest.

Negotiations on a $1.78 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund cannot be concluded amid the latest uncertainty.

"Once a new government is named, we will enquire about its intentions/mandate," an IMF spokeswoman, Wafa Amr, told reporters in an email. "Once the political situation is clarified, we'll assess how best to help Tunisia."
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