UPDATED: Tunisia MPs approve landmark new govt

AFP , Thursday 5 Feb 2015

Tunisia's parliament approved Thursday a coalition government led by the secular Nidaa Tounes party and including moderate Islamist rivals Ennahda, following landmark elections in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

Of 204 lawmakers present, the vote was a comfortable 166-30, with eight abstentions.

"The motto of this government will be work, then work ... and nothing other than work," pledged Prime Minister Habib Essid, an independent.

His is the first government to be formed after the North African country's first free presidential and parliamentary elections last year.

It follows the ouster of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 in a revolution that spread to many parts of the Arab world.

Nidaa Tounes, which won October's polls, holds six portfolios, including the foreign ministry, while the interior, defence and justice portfolios go to independents.

Ennahda takes the labour ministry and three secretary of state posts.

The vote had initially been set for Wednesday, but was delayed because of the high number of lawmakers who asked to address the special session of parliament.

Essid announced the cabinet on Monday after dropping his initial team when Ennahda, which came second to anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes in the election, warned it would vote against any line-up that excluded it.

President Beji Caid Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes won 86 of parliament's 217 seats, while Ennahda picked up 69.

Along with two other parties, the government has a commanding majority of 179 seats.

Essid, a senior bureaucrat under Ben Ali before becoming interior minister in a first post-revolution government, also held top positions under an interim coalition led by Ennahda until early last year.

He said Wednesday the government's "top priority... will be one of providing security and the battle against terrorism."

In this vein, he insisted on the need to "expedite the passage of an anti-terrorist law," which has been delayed for months.

Tunisia's security forces are battling jihadists who have claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on police and soldiers that have killed dozens of people since Ben Ali's ouster.

Even so, the country has received international praise for its transition to democracy, in stark contrast to other countries in the region now battling instability after similar revolts.

However, the economy remains sluggish and unemployment is stubbornly high, especially among young people.

Essebsi has vowed to address economic problems to "realise the promises of the revolution: dignity, employment, health and regional equality".

The Free Patriotic Union party -- headed by football club magnate and former presidential hopeful Slim Riahi -- and the liberal Afek Tounes are also represented in the government.

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