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Ex-Tunisia PM creates party as counter-balance

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June 16, 2012 03:14 PM EST | AP

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TUNIS, Tunisia — A former prime minister who led Tunisia's transition government after the fall of its autocratic leader has launched a new political party to counter-balance the Islamists running the North African country.

Beji Caid Essebsi announced the formation of the Nida' Tounes, or Call of Tunisia, party on Saturday before thousands of men and women – including a number of artists – in a packed hall. The 85-year-old said he wants a party "that unifies everyone, without exclusion." He called it a "balancing force that can create conditions for an alternative."

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party was elected after a transition period following the January 2011 ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. However, hardline Islamists are emerging and last week clashed with police over an art exhibit they judged blasphemous.