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Diplomat Jarandi to be new Tunisian foreign minister - sources

MYT 11:45:02 PM

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's ruling Islamist party Ennahda and its allies agreed on Tuesday to name senior diplomat Othman Jarandi as foreign minister in the new governing coalition, coalition sources said.

President Moncef Marzouki asked Interior Minister Ali Larayedh on February 22 to form a government within 15 days after Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali quit following violent unrest over the assassination of an opposition leader.

Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh speaks during a news conference in Tunis February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
Tunisia's Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh speaks during a news conference in Tunis February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

"There is a preliminary agreement that Othman Jarandi will be foreign minister, and Abdelhak Lassoued will replace the current defence minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, who wants to leave," a coalition source told Reuters. A second source confirmed the development but declined to give details.

Jebali resigned after his own Ennahda party rejected his plan for a technocratic cabinet, excluding political parties, to prepare for elections later this year and calm unrest ignited by the killing of secular politician Chokri Belaid on February 6.

Jarandi earlier served as Tunisian ambassador to the United Nations, Oman, Pakistan and South Korea.

Zbidi had held the defence portfolio since shortly after the January 2011 popular revolution that ousted veteran dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Under Zbidi, the military helped keep public order while staying out of politics.

Lassoued, 76, has not held a cabinet post before but served in the civil service under Tunisia's first post-independence president, Habib Bourguiba.

Tunisia plunged into political crisis a month ago when the assassination of secular opposition politician Chokri Belaid ignited the biggest street protests since Ben Ali's overthrow.

The turmoil put negotiations on a $1.78 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund on hold and prompted Standard and Poor's to lower its long-term foreign and local currency sovereign credit rating on Tunisia.

The so-called Jasmine Revolution in 2011 was the first of several Arab uprisings. Tunisia's political transition has been more peaceful than those in neighbouring Egypt and Libya, but tensions are festering between Islamists elected to power and liberals who fear the loss of hard-won liberties.

While Islamists played no major role in the Tunisian revolt, the struggle over Islam's role in government and society has emerged as one of the most divisive political issues.

(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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