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Tunisia PM dissolves government amid anger over assassination

Fethi Belaid / AFP - Getty Images

A protester jumps after police fired tear gas during a rally in Tunisia, Wednesday.

Tunisia plunged deeper into crisis Thursday after the prime minister’s attempt to restore order on the streets by dissolving the government was rejected by his own party, according to reports.

Hamdi Jebali announced late Wednesday that an interim cabinet of technocrats would replace the Islamist-led coalition – an attempt to calm angry public protests in the wake of the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

But the leader of Jebali’s own party on Thursday rejected that move, Al-Jazeera and Reuters reported,  raising the prospect of a power struggle just as authorities were struggling to contain the biggest street protests since the 2011 Arab Spring.

"The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party," said Abdelhamid Jelassi, vice-president of the Islamist Ennahda party, according to Reuters. "We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with others parties about forming a coalition government."

Political analyst Salem Labyed told Reuters the opposition appeared to want to leverage the crisis to its own advantage and that prolonged political uncertainty could kindle more unrest.

"It seems that the opposition wants to secure the maximum possible political gains ..., but the fear is that the country's crisis will deepen if things remain unclear at the political level.

"That could increase the anger of supporters of the secular opposition, which may go back to the streets again," he said.

The fatal shooting of Belaid, who was killed outside his own home early on Wednesday, sparked angry protests.

In the capital Tunis, an estimated 20,000 protesters massed outside the Interior Ministry, while in Sidi Bouzid -- cradle of the Arab Spring revolution -- there were clashes with police.

Reuters

Demonstrators burn documents of the Ennahda party, outside the party's headquarters, Wednesday.

Al Jazeera's Ahmed Janabi in Tunis reported violent clashes between Belaid's supporters and police along the main Habib Borguiba Avenue, with the police using tear gas and batons. 

Four opposition groups that are part of Belaid's Popular Front coalition announced that they would withdraw from the county’s national assembly, France24 reported.

Tunisians rose up against long-time leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself in Sidi Bouzid in late 2010.

Tunisia -- the first Arab country to oust its leader and hold free elections -- had made a relatively smooth transition to democracy. However, it has recently been plagued by economic hardship and the threat from al-Qaida-linked militants.