Friday, January 21, 2011

Some Police join Protestors calling for End of Interim Government In Tunisia

Thousands of Tunisians have gathered in front of their country's interior ministry, demanding the dissolution of the new interim government that assumed power after the president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country.

The protesters marched down the Avenue Habib Bourguiba on Friday morning in Tunis, the capital of the north African nation, chanting anti-government slogans, Al Jazeera's Yasmine Ryan reported.

Police blocked the protesters at the interior ministry and prepared water cannons, she said. Protesters soon dispersed, with many heading towards the headquarters of the main labour union, calling for a general strike.

Later in the day, some police officers joined protesters in a march towards the prime minister's office, Al Jazeera's Nazinine Moshiri said.

Many Tunisians are angry that several prominent members of Ben Ali's government have been included in the transitional cabinet, which convened for the first time on Thursday.

National mourning

The latest protests in the north African country come on the first day of a three-day period of national mourning for those who died during the month-long uprising that overthrew Ben Ali.

Flags in the country have been set at half mast.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin meets the mother of the 26-year-old whose suicide sparked the uprising

Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds during the protests, causing the deaths of about 100 people, according to the United Nations.

Protests in Tunisia have continued even after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on December 14 and the new interim government offered major concessions.

Tayyib Al Bakouchi, a government spokesman, said the multiparty cabinet pledged to make security its top priority, to prepare for new presidential elections and speed up political reforms.

The ministers also vowed to restore goods and real estate appropriated by the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), the ruling party under Ben Ali, officials said.

The transitional government says 1,800 political prisoners have already been freed this week.

However, Al Jazeera's Moshiri said it was difficult to ascertain the number of detainees in the first place.

"We've heard earlier in the day that some Islamist ones belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, being kept under Tunisian anti-terror laws, may not have been freed yet," she said.

Under pressure

Thursday's cabinet session in Tunis coincided with protests by hundreds of people outside the RCD headquarters, demanding that ministers associated with the rule of Ben Ali leave the government.

Using a large steel cable, a government employee tore off the Arabic letters of the party's name from the facade.

Amid shouts protesting against the transitional government, the crowd brandished signs reading: "We are no longer afraid of you, traitors," and "RCD out!"

All ministers of the new cabinet were present in the meeting except five who resigned earlier this week, refusing to sit in a unity government with RCD members.

Before the cabinet convened, all of the eight ministers in the new government who had been members of RCD quit the party, without giving up their cabinet posts.

The transitional cabinet decided to recognise all banned political parties and agreed on a general amnesty for all political prisoners.

"The minister of justice presented a bill for a general amnesty, which was adopted by the cabinet, which decided to submit it to parliament," Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the development minister, said.

Asked if the government had decided to lift bans on political groups, including the Islamist al-Nahda movement, Mohamed Aloulou, the youth minister, said: "We will recognise all the political movements."

Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the exiled head of al-Nahda, told Al Jazeera earlier this week that he plans to return to Tunisia.

However, Mohamed Ghannouchi, the interim prime minister, has said al-Ghannouchi would only be able to do so once the amnesty law is passed because he carries a life sentence for plots against the state.

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