July 27, 2012 / 6:02 PM / 5 years ago

UPDATE 2-Tunisia Finance Minister quits, adds to transition fears

(Adds government accepting resignation, interim replacement)

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, July 27 (Reuters) - Tunisia’s Finance Minister Hussein Dimassi resigned on Friday over differences with the Islamist-led government, adding to concerns about the fate of a political transition in the north African country, which saw the first of the Arab Spring revolts.

The official TAP news agency made the announcement without giving reasons for Dimassi’s resignation, which occurred less than a month after the president sacked the central bank governor and the administrative reform minister resigned - both over differences with the government.

A statement sent by Dimassi’s office to Reuters cited differences with the government over financial compensation to be paid to some 20,000 mostly Islamist former political prisoners of the ousted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s government.

“Differences between (Dimassi) and the government about spending and the sacking of the central bank governor were the main reasons for his resignation,” it said.

The government, in a statement read out on state television, accepted Dimassi’s resignation and announced the appointment of his deputy Slim Besbes as an interim replacement. The government attributed Dimassi’s resignation to differences over “economic policy”, without elaborating.

Tunisia, struggling to emerge from recession, has held a steady course on inflation, interest rates and exchange rates even in the turmoil that followed Ben Ali’s ousting, but Dimassi’s resignation seems to indicate that holding that line may not be easy.

Dimassi had issues with what he called “slippages” by a government he accused of being more concerned about winning votes than about the health of public finances.

“The draft law for the compensation of beneficiaries of the general amnesty is the most serious of all, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said the statement from Dimassi’s office.

“It will result in a very heavy expenditure for the state’s budget considering the high number of beneficiaries and the amount of the compensation,” it said.

Tunisian newspapers said the plan may cost as much as 750 million dinars ($470 million).

Dimassi’s resignation is set to give fresh ammunition to the secular opposition as a further sign of growing differences within the ruling coalition and may plunge Tunisia - the first Arab country to oust its leader and hold free elections as Arab Spring uprisings spread around the region last year - deeper into crisis. ($1 = 1.6109 Tunisian dinars) (Writing by Souhail Karam; Editing by Susan Fenton and Ralph Gowling)

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