Tunisia seeks arrest of ousted president, protests turn violent

Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted Ben Ali amid violent protests.

Tunisia seeks arrest of ousted president, protests turn violent

Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month amid violent protests.

Charges against Ben Ali include taking money out of the country illegally, Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said Wednesday. The country is also seeking the arrest of Ben Ali's wife, Leila, as well as other family members.

"We are asking Interpol to find all those who fled, including the president and this woman, for trial in Tunisia," the justice minister said.

Chebbi also said six members of the presidential guard would be put on trial for inciting violence after Ben Ali's departure.

Inspired by Tunisia's example in toppling Ben Ali, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets of Cairo and other cities to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, clashing with police who fired teargas and used water cannon.

In Tunis, protesters managed to get into the building where the justice minister was speaking and crowded around him after the news conference to petition him about relatives who are still in prison.

Chebbi said that, in the disorder that followed the fall of Ben Ali, about 11,000 prisoners had escaped from Tunisian jails.

"Mass breakout"

On Jan. 15, the day after Ben Ali left, dozens of inmates were reported to have been killed in a mass breakout from a prison in the town of Mahdia. The same day, 42 inmates were killed in a prison riot in Monastir in what was described by a hospital official as "complete chaos".

Chebbi said 2,460 prisoners had been released since Ben Ali fell. It was not clear how many of them had been in jail for political crimes, but the government said earlier it was releasing all political prisoners.

In Tunis, demonstrators clashed with police on Wednesday, as days of peaceful protests demanding a purge of former regime loyalists in an interim government descended into violence.

Clashes broke out near government offices in the old city, or casbah, where riot police fired teargas at hundreds of demonstrators, mainly teenagers and young men, who threw stones.

Wednesday's protesters appeared to be Tunisians from the rural hinterland who have been camping out at the government compound.

They shouted at the security forces that they were the "police of Leila", a reference to Ben Ali's unpopular wife, who was seen as having excessive influence and lavish tastes.

"Reshuffle"

Ministers said the interim government, which has struggled to assert itself in the face of protesters' demands to sack the remaining allies of Ben Ali, would be reshuffled later on Wednesday.

The government remains dominated by former members of the ruling RCD party and the new cabinet lineup will mainly fill posts vacated by five resignations over the past week, Education Minister Tayeb Baccouche told Reuters.

Another minister said some provincial governors would also be replaced.

The Tunisian General Labour Union announced a general strike on Wednesday in Sfax, Tunisia's second city and economic centre.

The toppling of Ben Ali after 23 years in power, in protests led mainly by young people protesting against poverty, corruption and political repression, has electrified Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, where many countries face similar problems.


Agencies

Last Mod: 26 Ocak 2011, 15:47
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