Political vacuum filled by chaotic in-fighting

Urgent efforts are under way to form a government in Tunisia as instability and violence continueto rack the country with a steady increase in the number of casualties.

Three opposition leaders are tipped to take posts in a cabinet being formed by the Prime Minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, who was briefly proclaimed head of state after President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled, and has been asked to form a temporary government of national unity.

Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the Ettajdid party, Najib Chebbi, founder of the opposition PDP party, and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, are all expected to get senior appointments. The foreign and interior ministers from the old administration, however, are likely to retain their posts.

Fouad Mebazza, the parliamentary speaker, has announced elections will be held within 60 days but the political future remains daunting for Tunisia. A generation has grown up under the authoritarian rule of Ben Ali and there is little historic experience of democratic representative government. Instead of reconciliation, opposing sides have been engaged in retributional bloodletting since the departure of the president.

Mr Ibrahim, of Ettajdid, said before meeting Mr Ghannouchi yesterday: "The main thing for us right now is to stop all this disorder. We are in agreement on several principles concerning the new government." Referring to a speech by the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, that Tunisia may be recreating the conditions of its turbulent pre-Ben Ali past, he added: "That will not happen – we will not go backwards."

Opposition parties want reassurance that future elections will be properly monitored. They claim the two-month deadline for the polls gives them too little time to prepare. They want six to seven months to allow the political machinery to be established.

Kamal Ben Younes, head of the International Studies Institute, one of Tunisia's leading think-tanks, said: "We also need to make sure that those who served under Ben Ali are not thrown out of the political process." .

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