Tunis: Tunisia’s ruling Islamists and opposition were to begin hard-won negotiations on Wednesday to end months of political deadlock, with Prime Minister Ali Larayedh expected to announce his government’s resignation.
Ahead of the long-awaited national dialogue, which mediators hope will mark a crucial step in the country’s democratic transition, rival protests are planned in the capital’s central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, epicentre of the January 2011 revolution.
A coalition of secular opposition parties has called a demonstration early afternoon to demand the immediate departure of the government led by ruling Islamist party Al Nahda, which it accuses of clinging to power.
Separately, the League for the Protection of the Revolution, a controversial pro-government militia, has urged supporters of Tunisia’s first freely-elected government to defend its “legitimacy”, raising fears of violence.
Police from dawn deployed along the central Tunis boulevard and partially blocked traffic.
Before the national dialogue begins, Larayedh is due to convene an extraordinary cabinet meeting and will make a statement afterwards, at around 1330 GMT, his office said.
Parliament speaker Mustafa Bin Jaafar said he expected the prime minister to announce his commitment to resign, allowing negotiations between Tunisia’s bitterly divided factions to end the political paralysis gripping the country since the July killing of opposition MP Mohammad Brahmi.
“In principle, the government will announce its commitment to respecting the roadmap and its resignation within a few weeks,” he said in a televised interview on Tuesday evening.
Larayedh has previously stated that he would step down only once a new constitution has been adopted, in line with the roadmap drawn up by mediators and agreed to earlier this month by his ruling Islamist party Al Nahda.
Some 60 opposition MPs who have been boycotting parliament since the political crisis erupted, also said they had received assurances the national dialogue would begin with the government announcing its resignation.