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TUNISIA: Once-banned Islamist party returns; will possibly join government

March 2, 2011 |  4:54 pm

A Tunisian Islamist party that had been banned for more than 20 years has been legalized and could join the government as the country embarks on a fragile transition to democracy after the recent ouster of its long-time autocratic leader, according to Reuters news agency, the Associated Press and other news sources.

The Ennahdha Party, branded an Islamic terrorist group by Tunisia's ousted leader, Zine el Abidine ben Ali, but considered moderate by some scholars, is ready to step back into the political arena, Reuters said.

Ennahdha’s 69-year-old leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, who returned to Tunisia Jan. 30 after 22 years in exile, told Reuters in an interview that it was “possible” his party could join an interim government.

 “When conditions that require our participation emerge, we will join,” Ghannouchi told Reuters. “What's important is assuming a position that contributes to democratization.”

 Ennahdha would compete in the parliamentary election in July on a platform of social and economic justice, Ghannouchi said in his interview with Reuters. But an aide told the news service that the veteran leader would relinquish his party’s leadership later this year after a party congress.

Ghannouchi told Reuters that he did not oppose the Tunisian army’s intervention during the current turmoil, “because it stood up against the dictator's orders to shoot protesters,” Reuters quoted the party leader as saying.

He added that armed forces were necessary to halt an increase of violence, which he blamed on Ben Ali loyalists who were trying to derail the transition, Reuters reported.

The uprising in Tunisia triggered mass protests across North Africa and the Mideast, which have for decades been ruled by authoritarian presidents and monarchs.

--Ann M. Simmons

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