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Tunisia Islamist party chooses new prime minister

Associated Press
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, right, receives a letter regarding the appointment of Interior Minister Ali Larayedh to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali from Ennahda ruling party's leader Rached Ghannouchi prior to a meeting at the presidential palace in Carthage near Tunis, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki on Friday has asked incumbent Interior Minister Ali Laarayedh from the ruling Ennahdha to form a new government in two weeks, according to the presidential office. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)
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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia's ruling Islamist party named an interior minister seen as a conservative loyalist to form a new government Friday, in a signal the party is unlikely to back down to opposition demands to try to smooth over the country's political crisis.

Ali Larayedh, accused of failing to stem violence by ultraconservative Muslims when he was in charge of Tunisia's security as interior minister, said he would start immediate consultations on forming a new government, according to the state news agency TAP.

He said after his first Cabinet meeting that the new government should represent different layers of society, including the secular media and arts worlds and preachers, TAP reported. He has 15 days to present a new government.

The killing of an opposition leader last month plunged Tunisia into its deepest political crisis since it started the Arab Spring uprisings two years ago. It led to violent protests against the Islamist-led government and demands for a crackdown on extremist violence.

The governing Ennahda party appointed Larayedh to take over after former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali who resigned because the party rejected his proposal to form an apolitical government of technocrats in response to the protests.

The split between the party and Jebali was seen as a deep disagreement between the party's hardline and moderate wings.

Larayedh, who has been widely criticized by the opposition for failing to ensure stability, is believed to come from the wing of the party that has been less willing to compromise with secular parties. His nomination could make the task of finding consensus and building a coalition with Tunisia's other political parties more difficult.

The party chose Larayedh, 57, in an overnight meeting, Moadh Ghannouchi, the son of Ennahda's leader, told the Associated Press.

Larayedh spent 15 years in prison under the previous regime and has attempted to reform the police force which was widely hated as the enforcer for dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Security, however, has been a problem under his watch, especially with regular attacks by extremist Islamists over the past year against targets they deem impious, culminating in the Sept. 14 assault on the U.S. embassy over an amateur film made in the United States attacking the Prophet Muhammad.

Larayedh also announced late Thursday the arrest of several suspects in the assassination of opposition lawyer Chokri Belaid, saying "rapid progress" had been made in the investigation.

He gave few details, however, and could not confirm whether those arrested were the suspected killers or say who was behind the assassination.

Belaid was shot four times outside his home on Feb. 6, provoking days of unrest as many Tunisians held the government responsible for his death.

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