Islamists to rule Tunisia; clashes in cradle of revolt

TUNIS, (Reuters) – The leader of the Islamist party  which won Tunisia’s first free election appealed for calm in the  town where the “Arab Spring” began, accusing forces linked to  the ousted president of fanning violence there.

Rachid Ghannouchi

Party officials said coalition talks were already under way  and they expected to form a new government within 10 days.

Troops fired in the air yesterday to disperse a crowd  attacking government offices in Sidi Bouzid, where 10 months ago  vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in a  protest that ignited revolts around the Arab world.

The Ennahda party, which was banned for decades and its  leaders forced to flee abroad, will lead Tunisia’s new  government after an election victory likely to set a template  for other Middle Eastern states rocked by uprisings this year. Ennahda has tried to reassure secularists by stressing it  will not impose a Muslim moral code.

It will not impose the wearing of the Islamic headscarf, or  hijab, on women because all attempts to do that in other Arab  states have failed, the party’s leader said on Friday.

Rachid Ghannouchi said women would have jobs in the new  government “whether they wear a veil or don’t wear a veil”. Ennahda would honour an undertaking to finish writing a new  constitution within one year, he said at his first news  conference since the election. It would respect all Tunisia’s  international treaties when it forms a new government.

He blamed the Sidi Bouzid clashes on forces connected with  ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The unrest was not linked directly to the Ennahda win, but  to the fact that a party headed by a businessman popular in the  town, a former supporter of Ben Ali, had been eliminated from  the ballot over allegations of campaign finance violations.


Two witnesses in Sidi Bouzid told Reuters a large crowd had  tried to attack the local government headquarters.

“The military are trying to disperse the people with shots  in the air and tear gas,” one of the witnesses, Attia Athmouni,  said by telephone.

The witnesses said shops and schools were shut and a  security forces helicopter was hovering overhead.
Late on Thursday, after officials announced they would  cancel several seats won by the Popular List, a crowd set fire  to an Ennahda office and the office of the mayor. The party had  been running in fourth place in the election, according to  preliminary results, before its seats were cancelled.

An Interior Ministry source said a night curfew would be  imposed in the town from 7 p.m. (1800 GMT) until 5 a.m.

Ghannouchi paid tribute to the town’s role in the revolution  which forced Ben Ali to flee the country.

“We salute Sidi Bouzid and its sons who launched the spark  and we hope that God will have made Mohamed Bouazizi a martyr,”  said the Islamic scholar, who spent 22 years exiled in Britain.

Announcing the results, election commission members said  Ennahda had won 90 seats in the 217-seat assembly, which will  draft a new constitution, form an interim government and  schedule new elections, probably for early 2013.