Tunisia union offers new plan to end political crisis

TUNIS Tue Sep 17, 2013 7:48pm BST

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's powerful labour union on Tuesday proposed a timetable to end the country's political deadlock, calling for the Islamist-led government to step down in three weeks and make way for a caretaker administration to oversee elections.

The small North African country that began the Arab Spring revolts has been in political crisis for weeks, with secular opponents demanding the Islamist-led coalition government resign immediately.

Angered by the assassinations of two of its leaders and emboldened by Egypt's army-backed ousting of an Islamist president, Tunisia's opposition held protests against the ruling Islamist Ennahda party. The government agrees it will step down, but wants guarantees of a fair handover.

The UGTT labour movement negotiating between the two sides said the new proposal calls for the government to resign in three weeks, after the start of new negotiations. A date for elections would be set during those three weeks of talks.

"We will hand the proposal to the parties involved. They should give a response in 48 hours. If that works out, then dialogue could start at the weekend," a union official told Reuters.

Initial talks between the sides fell apart and the unrest has threatened to delay the path to elections in a country that had been seen as the most promising example for young democracies that followed revolts in Libya, Egypt and Yemen.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)