Tunisians sceptical as PM defends 'new' government

Tunisia's PM defended his "new unity" government after critics attacked his decision to retain many ministers who served under the country's ousted president.

Tunisians sceptical as PM defends 'new' government

Tunisia's prime minister defended his "new unity" government on Tuesday after critics attacked his decision to retain many ministers who served under the country's ousted president.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi brought opposition leaders into the coalition announced on Monday after the president fled to Saudi Arabia following weeks of violent street protests. But key 'old guard' figures kept their jobs, angering many.

"We have tried to put together a mix that takes into account the different forces in the country to create the conditions to be able to start reforms," Ghannouchi told Europe 1 radio.

The old ministers had been kept on because they were "needed" in the run-up to elections, expected in the next two months, and they could be counted on, he said.

Ghannouchi rejected suggestions that the "dictatorship" of ousted president Zine al Abedine Ben Ali would continue under a new guise.

"That is completely unfair. Today there is an era of liberty which is showing itself on the television, on the street," he said.

The weeks of protests against poverty and unemployment in Tunisia which forced Ben Ali from office prompted fears across the Arab world that similarly repressive governments might also face popular unrest.

In Tunis on Tuesday, people in several parts of the city reported hearing sporadic gunfire overnight but there was significantly less gunfire than on previous nights.

On Bourguiba Avenue, the tree-lined main street in the capital, kerb-side cafes were putting out their tables for the first time since last week, and shops were re-opening.

The avenue had been the scene of a protest against the government on Monday. As usual, there was a police and military presence but there was no sign of any demonstration early on Tuesday.

A Reuters photographer in the Ariana suburb of Tunis said local people were organising neighbourhood groups to clean up the damage left by several days of lawlessness.

Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa told state television on Monday that 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).

"Promises"

The government has also promised changes, although Tunisians will be watching closely to see if these pledges are fulfilled.

Ghannouchi promised that political prisoners would be released, banned parties will be allowed to function, and the Tunisian Federation of Human Rights will be freed from restrictions that Ben Ali imposed on it.

Ghannouchi promised to release all political prisoners and to investigate those suspected of corruption, and those behind the killing of demonstrators would face justice.

"All those who are behind this massacre, this carnage, will be accountable to the justice system."

The wave of protests has hit stock and currency markets from Jordan to Morocco amid fears that the Tunisian unrest would spread abroad.

The prime minister said the ministers of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs under Ben Ali would keep their jobs in the new government.

Among opposition figures, Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), was named minister of regional development, Ettajdid party leader Ahmed Ibrahim higher education minister and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, health minister.

"Tunisians sceptical"

People interviewed in the centre of Tunis soon after the government was announced said they were angry and disappointed. Some have already made their anger felt.

"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?"

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.

if people think their new leaders are too much like the old ones, changing them through elections could be trickier than it appears. As things stand, the election will be held under a constitution tailor-made to suit Ben Ali.

It contains a requirement that anyone running for the presidency has to have been the head of a political party for the previous two years.


Agencies

Last Mod: 18 Ocak 2011, 14:54
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