Tunisian police fired shots into the air on Thursday to try to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding that ministers associated with the rule of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali leave the government.
The protesters, who gathered outside the Tunis headquarters of the RCD, Tunisia's ruling party for several decades, refused to move back when police fired shots from behind a metal fence. There were also protests in other towns across Tunisia.
The protesters on Mohamed V Avenue near the centre of Tunis, chanted: "After Ben Ali and his wife, we want to bring down his thieves!" They also burned the logo of the party and carried banners saying: "Government out!"
One of the protesters, who gave his name as Aymen, said: "We are here, we are not going to move until the RCD falls. We will come every hour and every day."
The central committee of Ben Ali's RCD power base has been dissolved, state television reported, saying the decision was taken as many committee members, who were also government ministers, had quit the party under opposition pressure. The party itself will continue to operate, the report said.
The ministers in the interim government resigned from the RCD party in a bid to restore credibility after four opposition ministers quit the cabinet, saying ministers belonging to the RCD party must go.
In a new blow to the government, a junior minister stepped down on Thursday, the official news agency said.
"I am stepping down for the higher interests of the country in this delicate situation to try to bring the country out of crisis and ensure a democratic transition," Zouheir M'Dhaffar, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's office, was quoted as saying by the official TAP news agency.
Dissolution of RCD?
The prime minister and caretaker president left the RCD party this week, but protesters in Tunis and other cities kept up pressure on Thursday for a government free of ties with Ben Ali and the old guard.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people gathered in the town of Gafsa, 350 km (220 miles) south of Tunis, to protest about the presence in the government of ministers who worked for Ben Ali, union activist Hedi Radaoui told Reuters.
State television said there was also an anti-government protest in the town of Kef, about 180 km south-west of Tunis. Thousands also protested in Sfax and Gafsa.
It was the first time that major anti-government protests have been reported outside the capital since Ben Ali fled the country on Friday, faced with violent unrest over poverty and unemployment which unsettled autocrats across the Arab world.
In further moves to seize the assets of the former ruling family, a bank owned by Ben Ali's son-in-law was placed under the control of the central bank, state TV said.
A day earlier, 33 of Ben Ali's clan were arrested for crimes against the nation. State television showed what it said was seized gold and jewellery.
Switzerland froze Ben Ali's family assets.
Shooting and looting on the streets have declined in recent days, but a resident in the Mouroudj neighbourhood, 5 km (3 miles) from Tunis city centre, said police and military intervened on Wednesday night after gunmen began shooting.
Helicopters flew overhead and security forces used loud-hailers to tell people to stay indoors, the resident said.
In Sidi Bouzid, the hardscrabble central Tunisian town where the revolt against Ben Ali erupted after a vegetable seller set himself on fire after being insulted by police, residents said the changes at the top had not gone far enough.
"We want the dissolution of this (RCD) party. This is the solution, and we want to hold its members responsible for their corruption," Lazhar Gharbi, a head teacher and trade unionist told Reuters.
Related news reports:Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2011, 16:43