Posted at: 11/05/2013 12:35 PM
By SYLVIE CORBET and BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA

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Tunisian leader: Political process will succeed

(AP) PARIS - Tunisia’s president expressed confidence Tuesday that the North African country’s transition to democracy will succeed despite the collapse of key talks to select a new prime minister.

Under pressure from the opposition and popular demonstrations, the Islamist-led government recently agreed to step down in favor of a government of technocrats, but, after a week, talks have bogged down.

"We are determined to promote the democratic process in Tunisia, despite the difficulties of the moment," Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said in a joint statement in Paris with French President Francois Hollande. "The process is ongoing, with failure, with moments of blockage, but we are absolutely determined to keep going on."

Tunisia kicked off the Arab Spring revolutions by overthrowing its dictator in 2011, but the transition to democracy has been hampered by a struggling economy, terrorist attacks and bickering politicians.

After a second left-wing politician was assassinated in July, the opposition staged a walkout from the assembly charged with writing the new constitution, paralyzing the country.

A lengthy mediation process conducted by the main labor union and other groups from civil society finally culminated in last week’s national dialogue of 21 parties.

The gathering was to select a new prime minister responsible for assembling the technocratic government due to run the country until elections for a permanent legislature and president.

Houcine Abassi, head of the main labor union and main mediator in the talks, said late Monday, however, that the talks were suspended because the sides could not reach a consensus.

"We do not believe in failure because the dialogue has to succeed _ it is our destiny," he said, explaining that the parties must now consult among themselves, "but not for long because the country cannot tolerate it."

Talks revolve around two elderly politicians who served under Tunisia’s founding president, Habib Bourguiba, who weren’t tainted by the regime of his widely reviled and later overthrown successor, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, who won elections after Ben Ali’s ouster, supports Ahmed Mestiri, 88, but the opposition has said he is too old. They, in turn, are backing 79-year-old Mohammed Ennaceur, an ex-social affairs minister.

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Bouazza reported from Tunis, Tunisia.

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)