Tunisia PM unveils 'unity government'

Tunisia unveiled a unity government Monday to prepare for elections although the ousted president's party retained key posts.

Tunisia PM unveils 'unity government'

Tunisia unveiled a unity government Monday to prepare for elections although the ousted president's party retained key posts.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi also said the government was committed to releasing all political prisoners and would investigate anyone with great wealth or suspected of corruption.

Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa told state television at least 78 people had been killed in the unrest, and the cost so far in damage and lost business was 3 billion dinars ($2 billion).

The protest wave against unemployment, graft and repression that unseated President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has hit stock and currency markets from Jordan to Morocco, and investors were waiting to see whether Tunisians accepted the unity government -- and if unrest spreads abroad.

Before the unity government was announced, about 1,000 people demonstrated in the capital Tunis, some saying they would not accept members of the ruling RCD party prominent in the new coalition because they would block needed reforms.

Security forces used water cannon and tear gas and fired shots in the air to disperse the protesters.

"Same faces"

Ghannouchi is a member of the RCD, previously led by Ben Ali, and the party retains a significant presence in the new government.

The prime minister said opposition leaders would have cabinet posts, but the ministers of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs would keep their jobs in the new government.

He named Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), which opposed Ben Ali, as minister of regional development. Ettajdid party leader Ahmed Ibrahim will be higher education minister and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, health minister.

"We are committed to intensifying our efforts to re-establish calm and peace in the hearts of all Tunisians. Our priority is security, as well as political and economic reform," Ghannouchi told a news conference.

Tunisians sceptical

In the capital, ordinary Tunisians were sceptical.

"We do not trust this government because there are the same faces, like Ghannouchi ... and particularly Friaa," said passerby Mohamed Mishrgi. "It's as if Ben Ali's system is still there. It's for that reason that the demonstrations are continuing in Tunis. We want a new state with new people." Another passerby, Hosni Saidani, added: "It is difficult to trust these people because they participated in Ben Ali's system but they did not have the courage to say to him, 'Stop.' So how can they make a change towards democracy?" A British minister also called for more thorough political reforms and greater political freedom in Tunisia.

The profound change in Tunisia in the past few days "is not yet the political reform that many people in that country hope for," Foreign Office minister David Lidington told parliament.

Britain wanted "an orderly move towards free and fair elections and an expansion of political freedom in Tunisia," he said during a debate.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, "So far, the Tunisian government is doing what it needs to do to reassure its people, restore a sense of calm and chart a path forward led by a unity government."

Tunisia's speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazza, sworn in as interim president, had asked Ghannouchi to form a government of national unity, and constitutional authorities said a presidential election should be held within 60 days.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after weeks of street unrest. His sudden departure sent shock waves through the Arab world, where autocratic leaders preside over similarly repressive governments.

A senior central bank official, Habib Maalej, denied reports that the ex-president's family had taken 1.5 tonnes of gold worth $66 million out of the country.

"... The gold reserves in Tunisia are very well preserved and not one ounce was brought out," Maalej said in a telephone interview with the African Manager website.

Tanks and soldiers were stationed on the streets of Tunis on Monday after clashes overnight between special forces and Ben Ali's security men, and the U.S. embassy said it would evacuate family members of its staff to Rabat on Tuesday.

The event that set off Tunisia's unrest -- a man set himself on fire after police seized his vegetable cart -- seemed to have spurred copycat burnings. Four men were reported to have set fire to themselves in Algeria, and one each in Egypt and Mauritania.


Agencies

Last Mod: 18 Ocak 2011, 12:13
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