TUNIS: Tunisia's ruling Islamists on Saturday began talks with secular opponents to prepare for a transitional government and elections to end political deadlock in the North African country.
Tunisia, where an uprising two years ago began the "Arab Spring" revolts, has been in crisis for weeks after the assassination of an opposition leader triggered protests and threatened the transition to democracy.
Negotiations are still delicate, but moderate Islamist party Ennahda has agreed it will step down at the end of three weeks of talks to decide on the composition of the caretaker administration and set a date for new elections.
"It's a fragile balance now, we have to work to find a consensus," said Maya Jibri, a leader of a secular opposition party at talks in the Palais de Congres hall in central Tunis.
After autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted by street protests in 2011, divisions over the political role of Islam have split Tunisia, one of the most secular nations in the Muslim world.
Once suppressed by Ben Ali, hardline Islamists have demanded a greater role for religion in public life. Its critics fear Ennahda wants to impose a strict Islamist programme that would impinge on liberal education and women's rights.
Tunisia's path to democracy has been relatively peaceful compared to its neighbours, Egypt, whose army ousted an elected Islamist president, and Libya, where militias still control parts of the country.
Unrest erupted in July after the killing on an opposition leader, the second such assassination by suspected Islamist militants this year. Opposition parties accused Ennahda of being lax with hardline Islamists and demanded its resignation.