Africa

Tunisia's NCA agrees new constitution

Tunisian President of the Ennahda parliamentary group, Sahbi Atig (2nd L) speaks with Ennahdha MPs during a meeting at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) as part of the debates on a new constitution on January 23, 2014, in Tunis. Image copyright AFP
Image caption The text says men and women should be equally represented in parliament

Tunisia's parliament has agreed a new constitution, in a bid to end months of political deadlock and pave the way for elections later this year.

A vote on the new document is to be held on Saturday, with a two-thirds majority needed for it to be adopted.

Correspondents say the governing Ennahda party agreed to a number of concessions, including dropping references to Islamic law.

The text guarantees freedom of worship but says Islam is the state religion.

Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won the first democratic elections after long-time ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power in 2011.

But it has faced fierce opposition from secular groups, who have accused it being too close to militant groups - charges it strongly denies.

It has also been unable to end an economic crisis, another factor in widespread street protests.

"If the constitution is adopted on the first reading by a two-thirds majority, the signing ceremony will take place on Monday," said Karima Souid, an MP and information officer at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), reports the AFP news agency.

Tunisia's women's rights groups had feared that they would lose some of the freedoms they have traditionally enjoyed if Islamist parties drafted the new constitution.

Tunis-based journalist Naveena Kottoor says rows over article 45, which obliges the state to protect women against violence and ensure equal representation of men and women in elected institutions, brought the drafting process to a halt for 36 hours.

When it was finally agreed, both male and female parliamentarians spontaneously started singing the national anthem, she says.

She further describes the article as a milestone in the Arab world.

The killing of two secular politicians last year sparked a political crisis in Tunisia.

Earlier this month, Ennahda Prime Minister Ali Larayedh stepped down and was replaced by Mehdi Jomaa, who will head a non-partisan, caretaker government, which is expected to be named in the coming days.

No date has been set for elections.

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