Tunisia's new assembly inaugurated
Tunisia's newly elected assembly on Tuesday met for the first time since an election last month won by the Islamist Ennahda party, the first free poll in the North African nation after the January ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, dpa reported.
The 217 members of the constituent assembly, who have one year in which to write a new constitution, were sworn in amid protests by civil society groups.
Around 1,000 people demonstrated outside the assembly in Tunis. Members of a women's group waved banners demanding the assembly enshrine gender equality and freedom of expression in the new constitution.
They also chanted slogans denouncing remarks by Ennahda secretary general Hamadi Jebali, who has alarmed secularists and liberals by speaking of the revival of a caliphate, or Islamic state.
The moderate Islamist party, which was banned under Ben Ali, has vowed not to impose Islamic law in Tunisia and to pursue an open market economic policy.
But footage posted on the internet last week showing Jebali telling supporters, "We are in the sixth caliphate, God willing" has sparked fears the party has a hidden agenda.
Ennahda won 89 assembly seats in last month's vote. The party has struck a power-sharing deal with two other main parties, the left-wing Congress of the Republic and the social-democratic party Ettakatol.
The deal gives Ennahda's Jebali the powerful post of prime minister, CPR leader Moncef Marzouki, a veteran human rights campaigner, the post of president and Ettakatol leader Mustafa Ben Jaafar the role of assembly president.
Ben Jaafar's nomination was ratified by the assembly in a vote Tuesday. Ben Jaafar won 145 votes. A candidate supported by a coalition of secularist parties, Maya Jribi, won 68 votes.
Addressing the deputies, the current interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, said Tunisia's peaceful polls had "consecrated national reconciliation."
He also paid homage to the victims of the month-long campaign of protests that toppled Ben Ali. Over 200 mostly unarmed protesters were killed during the uprising.
Their relatives demonstrated outside the assembly to demand their killers be brought to justice.
Tuesday's assembly session marked another milestone in Tunisia's democratic transition, 10 months after the first Arab Spring uprising inspired similar revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria.
In a break with the past, several female Ennahda lawmakers wore Muslim headscarves in the assembly. Under the secular Ben Ali and his predecessor Habib Bourguiba, the headscarf was banned in public.
The assembly will sit for a year, after which new presidential and parliamentary elections will be held under the new constitution.
The Ennahda-led coalition is soon expected to name a new government to run the country in the interim.