Tunisia's ruling Islamists accept plan to step down


TUNIS, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Tunisia's Islamist government hasagreed to resign after negotiations that start next week withsecular opponents to form a caretaker administration and preparefor elections, a senior ruling party official said on Saturday.

The negotiations aim to end weeks of crisis involving theIslamist-led coalition government and secular opposition partiesthat has threatened to scuttle the transition to democracy inthe North African country where the Arab Spring uprisings beganin 2011.

Tunisia's powerful UGTT labour union, mediating between thetwo sides, proposed the ruling Islamist Ennahda party agree tothree weeks of negotiations, after which it would step down andmake way for an independent transitional administration and seta date for elections.

"The dialogue will start on Monday or Tuesday," LotfiZitoun, an Ennahda party official, said. "Ennahda has acceptedthe plan without conditions to get the country out of thepolitical crisis."

Another source close to the talks confirmed Ennahda hadagreed to the proposal.

Since autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011after street protests against his rule, Tunisia has struggledwith divisions over the political role of Islam. The oppositionaccuses Ennahda of imposing an Islamist agenda on one of theMuslim world's most secular nations.

Tunisia's path to transition, however, has been mostlypeaceful compared to Egypt where the army toppled an electedIslamist president and Libya, where the central governmentstruggles to curb rival militia influence.

Tunisia's political crisis erupted in July after the killingof an opposition leader by suspected Islamist militants,bringing the opposition on to the streets to demand Ennahda stepdown.

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