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Ennahda calls for calm as violence flares in cradle of Tunisia's revolution

Reuters/Jamal Saidi

The leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party, which won 41.47 per cent of the votes in this week’s election, has appealed for calm following violent scenes in the town known as the cradle of the revolution.

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Troops fired into the air in Sidi Bouzid on Friday morning to disperse a crowd trying to attack the offices of the regional government.

The four biggest groups in the assembly are:

  • Ennahda (Islamist): 90 seats;
  • Congress for the Republic (CPR): 30 seats;
  • Ettakatol (left-wing secular): 21 seats;
  • Petition for Justice and Development (coalition including Haamdi’s Popular List): 19 seats.

Overnight about 2,000 people, mainly young men, attacked Ennahda’s office, a municipal building and a local court and administrative files were burnt, according to interior ministry official Hichem Meddeb.

They were angry that election officials had invalidated seats won by the Popular List, a party led by London-based businessman Hechmi Haamdi, over alleged finance violations.

On Friday Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi called for “calm and the preservation of public property” while paying tribute to the town’s role in the uprising that overthrew former president Zine el-Abbedine Ben Ali.

Ennahda has now set about forming a government after being officially declared the largest party in the newly elected constituent assembly.

It is negotiating with the secular CPR and Ettakatol but not with the Popular List, whose leader Ghannouchi has called “an ally of the dictatorship”, which drove him into exile and banned his party.

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Ahead of the announcement, Ghannouchi had been working to reassure business, foreign journalists and secular Tunisians that his party was “moderate” and would not enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

“Sharia gives us general principles in life, such as equality, freedom, respect of others, unity,” he told RFI.”We will not interfere in people’s lives, in how they dress, what they drink or eat or what they believe. That's their private life.”

Ennahda has pledged not to ban alcohol or bikinis on beaches, moves that might have harmed the important tourism sector.

And Ghannouchi on Friday promised not to reverse already-existing guarantees of women’s rights and “strengthen their role in political decision-making”.

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