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Tunisian parties formalise power-sharing deal

Tunisia's three main parties formalised a power-sharing deal Monday, with Hamadi Jebali of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party to serve as premier while two left-wing parties will fill the posts of president and head of the constitutional assembly.


REUTERS - The Islamist-led coalition ruling Tunisia after the country's first democratic election on Monday signed a deal to share out the top three state posts and committed itself to holding fresh elections within a year.

Tunisia became the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" uprisings when it ousted its president, and in an election that resonated throughout the region, it handed the biggest share of votes to the once-banned Islamist Ennahda party.

Ennahda fell short of an outright majority and formed a coalition with two secularist parties which will govern until new elections are held for permanent institutions.

At a ceremony in the capital, Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi and the heads of the two junior coalition partners, Moncef Marzouki and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, signed an agreement to cement their coalition.

Under the agreement, Ennahda secretary general Hamadi Jbeli will hold the most powerful post of prime minister while Marzouki will be in the largely ceremonial role of Tunisian president.

Ben Jaafar will be speaker of the assembly which has the task of drafting a new constitution.

"This is an historic day," said Marzouki, a human rights activist who for decades was harassed by police under ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. "This is the happiest day of my life."

At a news conference before the ceremony, Ennahda spokesman Nourdine Bhiri, said: "We have an agreement to organise elections within a period of not more than one year."

Ennahda's election victory was the first time Islamists had won power in the Arab world since the Hamas faction won an election in the Palestinian Territories in 2006.

Tunisia's transition to democracy is being watched closely by Egypt and Libya, where "Arab Spring" revolts pushed out entrenched leaders and where once-outlawed Islamists are also challenging for power.

Secularists in Tunisia, one of the most liberal societies in the Arab world, say they believe the Islamists will erode their freedoms, but Ennahda has offered assurances it will not impose strict Muslim rules and will respect women's rights.

The coalition has yet to announce which ministers will form the caretaker government.

A senior Ennahda source told Reuters on Monday that the ministers for finance and defence would keep their posts along with the governor of the central bank.

The source said that apart from those posts "there will be a lot of changes (in the government line-up)."

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