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Tunisa's ruling Islamists to step down after talks

Associated Press

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's ruling Islamist party has agreed to step down following negotiations with opposition parties that begin next week.

A spokesman for the main labor union said months of talks with the Islamist-led government had finally reached an agreement Saturday. Bouali Mbarki of the UGTT union says the deal calls for three weeks of negotiations to appoint an interim technocratic non-partisan government.

Tunisia has endured more than two years of turmoil, worsened by the assassination of a leading opposition figure in July.

As recently as a week ago the union said talks on a way out of the country's political impass had failed. The union, opposition, lawyers and human rights advocates say the government's inability to ensure security led ot the killings of one opposition figure in July and another in February.

The death of Mohammed Brahmi, who was gunned down in front of his family on July 25, plunged Tunisia into its current crisis, as dozens of opposition lawmakers quit, freezing efforts to write a new constitution. Street protests and political paralysis have crippled the country.

Tunisia's protesters, inspired by the self-immolation of a fruit seller, overthrew their decades-old authoritarian government in January 2011. Those protests spread through the Arab world, including to Egypt, Syria and neighboring Libya.

The opposition has accused Ennahda of being overly tolerant of a rising radical Islamist trend that has shown violent tendencies in its efforts to instill greater piety. Before the 2011 fall of Tunisia's longtime dictator, the country had been known as one of the most secular countries in the Arab world.

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