Sunday, January 23, 2011

Liberation March in Tunis wants Interim Prime Minister out

Tunisian protesters camp outside PM's office

By Imed Lamloum (AFP)

TUNIS — Hundreds of Tunisians defied a night-time curfew and camped out in front of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi's office Sunday in a bid to force the government to resign following president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's ouster.

Protesters said the revolt against Ben Ali has not gone far enough and should be followed up by the removal of all old-regime figures from the leadership and the abolition of Ben Ali's powerful RCD party.

The protest defied a night-time curfew and a state of emergency that bans any public assemblies but security forces did not intervene -- in stark contrast to the violent crackdown seen in the final days of Ben Ali's rule.

Protesters set up two tents and laid out sleeping bags on the square in front of Ghannouchi's office, where thousands had gathered earlier on Sunday.

Many had come from poorer rural regions of the North African state, where the uprising against Ben Ali's regime began with social protests last month.

"We won't leave the square until the government resigns," said Mizar, a student from Sidi Bouzid -- the town in central Tunisia where a fruit vendor's self-immolation protest last month unleashed the first demonstrations.

Some of the protesters held up pictures of the dozens of people killed during Ben Ali's crackdown, who are now officially "martyrs of the revolution."

"We have come to bring down the rest of the dictatorship," said Mohammed Layani, an elderly man draped in a Tunisian flag.

Another man, Samit, said: "Our main demand is freedom before bread. We want this fascist and corrupt regime to fall."

A sign on the building that read "Prime Minister's Office" had been scrawled on by a protester with the tag: "Ministry of the People".

A placard read: "They stole our money, they won't steal our revolution."

The protest was supported by the General Union of Tunisian Workers, best known under its French acronym UGTT, which played a key role in anti-Ben Ali protests and has refused to recognise the fledgling government.

The state news agency TAP meanwhile reported that the director of the country's main private television channel had been arrested for plotting to bring back Ben Ali and the channel was briefly taken off air.

The channel later re-appeared with the inscription: "Voice of the People."

Officials said they had also detained two key figures from the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who quit on January 14 after 23 years in power.

Senate leader Abdallah Kallal and top Ben Ali adviser Abdel Aziz Ben Dhia were being held under house arrest, TAP news agency reported.

The government has sought to put an end to days of turmoil in the country and schools and universities, which were shut on January 10 during the protest movement against Ben Ali, were expected to begin re-opening this week.

A planned re-opening of schools on Monday was however in question as the UGTT union has called for teachers to strike against the government.

The new transitional government, put in place after Ben Ali's shock resignation and flight to Saudi Arabia, has unveiled unprecedented freedoms but some ministers from the previous government still hold key posts.

Ghannouchi earlier appeared to respond to public pressure announcing that he would quit politics altogether but only after organising the north African state's first democratic elections since independence from France in 1956.

He has held the post of prime minister since 1999 and interim president Foued Mebazaa is also the speaker of parliament from Ben Ali's time.

The government has not given an official date for the elections.

Many Tunisians say they are delighted at their new-found democratic freedoms after the first popular revolt in the Arab world's recent history, which has inspired dissidents to protest in many other parts of the region.

There have been self-immolations similar to the one in Tunisia in several countries in the region including Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania and Morocco, as well as anti-government protests in Algeria and Yemen.

Among the changes instituted by the government have been a removal of restrictions on the import of foreign literature and films, the release of political prisoners and the lifting of media controls.

The banned Islamist movement Ennahdha has also said it now intends to register as an official political party and take part in elections.

Its exiled leader Rached Ghannouchi, who lives in London, was quoted on Saturday saying he would return to his homeland "very soon".

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