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Tunisian prime minister names new government amid crisis
Prime Minister Najla Bouden announcing the formation of a new government at the Carthage Palace on the outskirts of Tunis on Monday. - AFP
Prime Minister Najla Bouden announcing the formation of a new government at the Carthage Palace on the outskirts of Tunis on Monday. - AFP

TUNIS: Tunisia named a new government on Monday, 11 weeks after President Kais Saied ousted the prime minister and suspended parliament to assume near total control in moves that his critics call a coup.

Prime Minister Najla Bouden, appointed by Saied last month, said the government's main priority would be tackling corruption and "restoring hope". But although Tunisia faces a looming fiscal crisis, she did not mention a programme of economic reforms.

"I am confident we will move from frustration to hope," said Saied at the ceremony, while railing against "any who threaten the state".

Though Saied's intervention on July 25 appeared popular after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, opposition to him has started to solidify with street protests and statements from major domestic players.

The appointment of a government has long been demanded by both domestic political figures and foreign donors, along with a clear declaration by Saied of a timeline to exit the crisis.

Saied's moves have cast doubt on Tunisia's democratic gains since its 2011 revolution that inspired the Arab spring, and have also delayed efforts to seek a financial rescue package from the International Monetary Fund.

Tunisia faces a rapidly looming crisis in public finances, and the IMF has previously indicated it will negotiate only on the basis of government proposals for credible reforms.

Bouden's appointment prompted the biggest single-day gains for Tunisian bonds after Saied's intervention, which had prompted a significant sell-off and added to the cost of insuring its debt.

Saied said he would soon announce a national dialogue that would include youth from across the country and which is expected to focus on the future of Tunisia and its political system.

Resisting calls to reconvene the suspended parliament, which was elected at the same time as him in 2019, he showed a series of photographs of brawls inside the chamber from recent years and called it a parliament of "violence, blood and insults".

Saied also rejected what he called foreign interference in Tunisia, accusing some Tunisian politicians of seeking to poison relations with Western countries, especially France.

Western donors, whose assistance is needed for a rescue package for Tunisia's parlous public finances, have urged him to set out a clear roadmap for his next steps and to return to a normal constitutional order.

Last month, Saied moved to cement his position, brushing aside most of the constitution to say he could rule by decree and make the government responsible to himself, rather than to parliament.

Bouden kept the interim finance and foreign ministers Saied had already installed. For interior minister, she restored Taoufik Charfeddine, an ally of Saied whose dismissal in January caused friction between the president and then-prime minister Hichem Michechi.

After more than two months without a formal government, the new ministers are likely to face a huge backlog of work, a senior Tunisian politician said.

Tunisia has numerous debts maturing over the coming months and Central Bank Governor Marouane Abbasi said last week that financing budget risked boosting inflation, reducing reserves and causing a drop in the value of local currency. - Reuters

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