Tunisia ends 20-year ban for Islamist party
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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 02, 2011, 10:32
Tunis: A Tunisian Islamist party banned for more than 20 years was legalised on Wednesday, while the country's most prominent opposition figure quit the unity government amid renewed uncertainty about where Tunisia is headed.

The Ennahdha party branded an Islamic terrorist group by Tunisia's deposed leader but considered moderate by scholars has rebounded onto the political scene since a popular uprising forced out autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.

Ennahdha members want a role for Islam in their country's politics, but have not called explicitly for any specific laws enforcing Islamic practices.

Still, their activism has fed jitters that extremism may be on the rise in Tunisia, long a Westward-looking nation where women enjoy widespread freedoms, Muslim headscarves are banned in public buildings and abortions, a deep taboo in most Muslim societies, are legal.

The party requested legalisation a month ago and received it Tuesday, party spokesman Abdallah Zouari told The Associated Press, calling it a "step in favor of the Tunisian revolution." He said the party will focus on rebuilding and electing a new leader to prepare for upcoming elections.

Tunisia's caretaker government is trying to restore stability after weeks of deadly clashes between police and protesters that led to Ben Ali's ouster and sparked revolts across the Arab world.

Tunisia also is struggling with a gathering exodus of refugees fleeing violence and chaos in neighbouring Libya. Aid workers at the Libya-Tunisian border, where authorities say up to 75,000 people have fled Libya in just the past nine days, warned today that the situation is reaching a crisis point.

Tunisia had enjoyed relative calm until recent days, when new clashes left six dead and the prime minister resigned after 11 years as the head of government. This raised new questions about the future of this country, long a haven for European tourists and ally in US efforts to fight terrorism.

Six government ministers have quit their posts since Sunday, including three Tuesday, apparently trying to distance themselves from a caretaker government seen as too linked to the old regime.


First Published: Wednesday, March 02, 2011, 10:32

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