Tunisia’s ruling Islamists start talks with opposition to hand over power

October 7, 2013

Tunisia’s President Moncef Marzouki (C), Constituent Assembly’s President Mustapha Ben Jaafar (L) and Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh listen during the National Conference for Dialogue, which aims to pave the way for the formation of a transitional government, in Tunis October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

Tunisia’s ruling Islamists began talks with secular opponents on Saturday under a deal that calls for their government to step down and prepare elections to end months of political deadlock.

The North African country, where an uprising two years ago began the “Arab Spring” revolts, has been in crisis since the July assassination of an opposition leader triggered street protests demanding the government’s resignation.

Tunisia’s path to democracy has been relatively peaceful compared to those of its neighbors, Egypt, whose army ousted an elected Islamist president, and Libya where a weak government is struggling to tame rival militias.

The talks are still delicate, but moderate Islamist party Ennahda has agreed the government will step down at the end of three weeks of talks to decide on a temporary caretaker administration and set a date for presidential and parliamentary elections.

Leaders from Ennahda and an alliance of opposition parties signed a formal agreement on negotiations on Saturday at a ceremony at the Palais de Congres in central Tunis.

“It’s a fragile balance now. We have to work to find a consensus,” said Maya Jibri, a leader of a secular opposition party at the ceremony.

Read the full story by Patrick Markey and Tarek Amara here.

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