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Tunisia coalition's main party opts for 'moderate' stance

By AFP

AL KARM, Tunisia (AFP) - Tunisia's ruling Islamist Ennahda party stressed its "centrist" and "moderate" position, in a resolution adopted Sunday, the fourth day of its first congress at home in 24 years.

"The congress is almost finished its work," said the head of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi.

But debate on party strategy, which comes against a backdrop of political and religious tensions in the country, would continue into the night, he added.

"Tonight we will announce the outcome during a big celebration."

Ghannouchi has said repeatedly in the past few days that his party wants to present itself as a "moderate Islamist movement."

At a press conference, congress chairman and health minister Abdelatif Mekki said delegates had adopted a resolution backing this stance.

The resolution, which has yet to be published, "reinforces a centrist and moderate position and rejects extremism," Mekke said.

Many questions remain unanswered, however, including whether the government coalition is to be enlarged.

Ghannouchi said on Friday that such a move could make the government, which has been headed by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali since January 2011, more efficient.

The parliamentary opposition has called for a government of national salvation.

As things stand, Ennahda members make up around half of the cabinet. The other portfolios are shared between by two centre-left parties, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) of President Moncef Marzouki and Ettakatol.

The gathering is being held at a congress centre in Al Karm, a Tunis suburb, which in the past hosted meetings of toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's now disbanded party.

It is the party's first congress since it came to power following Ben Ali's ouster in protests that touched off the 2011 Arab Spring.

Established in June 1981 by Ghannouchi and a group of intellectuals inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Ennahda (Renaissance) was banned by Ben Ali after a major electoral success in 1989. Its leaders were either jailed or forced into exile.

Ennahda said in March that Islamic sharia law would not be made a part of the country's constitution, to the relief of its coalition partners which feared the Islamist majority in parliament might open the door to a theocracy.

Ennahda won Tunisia's first post-uprising poll, in October, taking 41 percent of the seats in the National Constituent Assembly.

The assembly is the interim body tasked with drafting a new constitution and preparing fresh elections, due in March 2013.

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