Tunisian protesters demand new govt dismiss RCD ministers

The unity cabinet was due to hold its first meeting, with its caretaker PM under pressure from opposition leaders who say there is no place in government for allies of the former leader.

Tunisian protesters demand new govt dismiss RCD ministers

Hundreds of protesters gathered in central Tunis on Wednesday to demand the dismissal from Tunisia's new coalition government of ministers associated with ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The national unity cabinet was due to hold its first meeting, with its caretaker prime minister under pressure from opposition leaders who say there is no place in government for allies of the former leader.

Four opponents of Ben Ali quit the government within a day of being appointed, saying protesters who triggered the upheaval were disappointed at how many of the old guard, including Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, were still in power.

About 500 protesters assembled on Bourguiba Avenue in the centre of Tunis.

"This will continue every day until we get rid of the ruling party," said Faydi Borni, a teacher. "We got rid of the dictator but not the dictatorship. We want rid of this government that shut us up for 30 years."

Not all Tunisians back the protests. "We've been living so long under pressure but maybe we should give the government a chance," said one woman bystander, who did not want to give her name. "People will have a chance to vote."

Around the protest, life continued as normal. Trams were passing through the middle of the demonstration. Protesters clapped a woman tram driver who smiled at them as she edged through the crowd.

"Resignations"

Tunis residents said the streets were quiet overnight, with no shooting or looting. In a sign that security was improving, state television said that the nightly curfew was shortened by three hours. It will now run from 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) until 5 a.m.

Abid al-Briki of the UGTT trade union, whose three ministerial nominees all resigned, said it still wanted to see all ministers from Ben Ali's team cleared out, though it would make an exception for Ghannouchi.

"This is in response to the demands of people on the streets," Briki said.

Trying to defuse the row, Ghannouchi and caretaker President Fouad Mebazza quit the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD).

One of the new ministers who resigned, Mustafa Ben Jaafar, indicated that move might be enough to tempt him back.

But the UGTT responded that while their ditching of old party members was positive, it was not sufficient. Ghannouchi said some ministers were kept on because they were needed in the run-up to elections, expected in the next two months.

Ministers in the coalition took the oath of office in a ceremony on Tuesday evening, Najib Chebbi, an opposition party leader and minister in the government, told Reuters.

In an indication of the new government's desire to break with the past, the ruling RCD party cancelled the party membership of Ben Ali, former presidential advisor Abd Elwahab Abdallah, Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakher Materi and brother-in-law Belhassen Trebelsi, state television reported.

The government says at least 78 people were killed in the unrest and the cost in damage and lost business was estimated at $2 billion.

The weeks of protests over poverty and unemployment which forced Ben Ali out prompted speculation across the Arab world that other repressive governments might also face unrest.

Rating agency Moody's Investors Service on Wednesday lowered its credit rating for Tunisia, and Standard and Poor's has threatened to do so if uncertainty continues.

The cost of insuring Tunisia's debt against default rose sharply after the downgrade.

At a summit in Egypt on Wednesday, the head of the Arab League warned the region's leaders to heed economic and political problems that sparked Tunisia's upheaval because they were issues that affected all Arab states.


Agencies

Last Mod: 19 Ocak 2011, 14:48
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