March 1, 2011 / 3:44 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 2-Three more Tunisian ministers step down

* Resignations throw caretaker government into turmoil

* PM to announce election of council to rewrite constitution

* Islamist movement given permission to form party

(Adds quotes, details)

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, March 1 (Reuters) - Three more Tunisian ministers resigned on Tuesday, leaving the caretaker government which took over power after the president was overthrown teetering on the brink of collapse.

The new resignations meant that in the space of 72 hours the prime minister and five ministers have now quit, the worst political crisis in Tunisia since veteran leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted a month and a half ago.

The resignations follow intensifying street protests over the slow pace of reform since Ben Ali’s departure, with five people killed in clashes between demonstrators and security forces over the weekend.

A source close to the government told Reuters that the new prime minister, Beji Caid Sebsi, will this week announce the creation of a representative council whose job it will be to rewrite the constitution.

The members of the council will need to be elected.

That move — a step toward preparing legistlative and presidential polls — could relieve pressure on the government from its opponents but it was not clear if it would be enough for it to survive.

The ministers who resigned on Tuesday included Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the regional development minister, and Ahmed Brahim, the higher education minister.

Both are opposition figures who were brought into the government after Ben Ali’s overthrow.

“I have resigned in the interests of the country after discussions with the Prime Minister I see that i can play a more efficient role as part of the opposition,” Brahim told Reuters, without giving any further details.

Chebbi stepped down after the prime minister told the existing government its members would not be permitted to stand in legislative or presidential elections, a source close to him told Reuters.

A spokesman for the premier’s office was not immediately available to comment.

The third minister to resign was Elyes Jouini, who held the economic reform portfolio.

ISLAMIST PARTY EMERGES

Tunisia has been struggling to restore stability since Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia in January after a wave of anti-government protests.

The revolution has provided the inspiration for uprisings in other parts of the Arab world, but Tunisia has since suffered outbreaks of violence and huge protests that have put pressure on the interim government.

Tunisia’s government also announced it had granted the main Islamist political movement, Ennahda, permission to form a political party, the official TAP news agency said on Tuesday.

The move will allow Ennahda, a moderate Islamist movement that had been banned for two decades under Ben Ali’s rule, to participate in the upcoming elections.

Ennahda’s leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, has said he does not plan to stand for the presidency, though it was unclear if someone else from the movement would.

Ennahda is expected to emerge as a major political force in Tunisia. It officially took 17 percent of the vote in 1989 elections before Ben Ali banned it, but analysts believe the real figure might have been closer to 35 percent.

Analysts have said moves to sideline Ennahda, which is likened to Turkey’s moderate AK party, could risk radicalizing the group and opening the door to militants.

Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Richard Valdmanis and Christian Lowe; editing by Alison Williams

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