Tunisia PM says new constitution by 2012: Media

TOKYO - Tunisia's Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi said his interim government plans to adopt a new constitution by early 2012 to speed up the democratisation process, a Japanese newspaper reported Monday.

"We want to adopt a new constitution within six months" of a scheduled October 23 vote for a constitutional assembly, Essebsi was quoted as telling Japan's Nikkei financial daily in an interview in Tunis on Saturday.

Tunisia's popular uprising in January toppled autocratic president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked revolts across much of the Arab world. Ben Ali fled into exile and faces a trial in absentia that starts Monday.

Essebsi told the Nikkei that by adopting a new constitution, Tunisia should return to a normal state conforming to law as soon as possible.

He added that dates for a presidential vote and other elections will be decided after the October 23 vote, the report said.

The premier also predicted that the political uprising will depress economic growth to one per cent this year and said Tunisia will need about US$2.5 billion (S$3.09 billion) in international aid over a five-year period.

Ben Ali faces charges related to theft, drugs and weapons at a criminal court in Tunis. He has denied all charges against him.

The former strongman fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 in the face of a popular uprising against his 23-year rule and is to be tried in absentia by a criminal court over some 93 cases against his entourage.