New Tunisian government announced by PM

Last Updated: Monday, January 17, 2011 - 23:47

Tunis: Tunisia`s prime minister appointed opposition figures to a new coalition government on Monday, trying to establish political stability after violent street protests brought down the president last Friday.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi also said the government was committed to releasing all political prisoners, and that anyone with great wealth or suspected of corruption would face investigation.

Demonstrators took to the streets earlier in the day demanding that the ruling party of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali give up power.

Some demonstrators said they would not accept members of the Ben Ali government as part of the new coalition. Security forces used water cannon and tear gas and fired shots in the air to disperse the protest, which ended peacefully.

The ministers of defense, interior, finance and foreign affairs will keep their jobs in the new government and opposition leaders including Najib Chebbi will have posts, the prime minister said.

Ghannouchi named Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) which opposed Ben Ali, as minister of regional development.

Opposition figures Ahmed Ibrahim and Mustafa Ben Jaafar will also have cabinet posts, Ghannouchi said.

Speaker of parliament Fouad Mebazza, sworn in as interim president, had asked Ghannouchi to form a government of national unity, and constitutional authorities said a presidential election should be held within 60 days.

Moncef Marzouki, a professor of medicine who leads the CPR Tunisian opposition party in exile in France, told Reuters separately he would be a candidate in a presidential election.

Before Ghannouchi spoke, about 1,000 people gathered in the capital`s main boulevard in a demonstration against the ruling RCD party, chanting: "Out with the RCD!" and "Out with the party of the dictatorship!"

One demonstrator, Monji Amari, said: "We are here to say `No`. We have had enough of this party of power. We do not want to see them anymore. Together with Ben Ali they are responsible for the situation that we are in now."

Ben Ali`s fall on Friday after weeks of violent street unrest sent shockwaves through the Arab world, where autocratic leaders preside over similarly repressive governments.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia amid a popular revolt against unemployment, corruption, poverty and repression in which at least 100 people died.

Leading Tunisian economist Moncef Cheikhrouhou said the central bank had told him that the former president`s family had taken 1.5 tonnes of gold worth $66 million out of the country.

Militia men loyal to Ben Ali had tried to raid the central bank on Sunday to remove more gold but had been routed by the army, he told Reuters in an interview.

Overnight, shooting could be heard in parts of Tunis, following clashes between special forces and members of the former president`s security detail on Sunday.

Residents reported seeing people in cars, on motorcycles and on foot firing shots apparently at random and then disappearing. People searched the roofs of their apartment blocks after reports that gunmen were firing on people below.

"There are snipers on the roof. We don`t know where. We are asking for immediate help from security forces," one caller to state television said.

Tanks and soldiers were stationed on the streets of Tunis, and the U.S. embassy said it would evacuate family members of its staff to Rabat on Tuesday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for the establishment of the rule of law in Tunisia, while the Arab League said Arab states should consider what lessons could be learned from the crisis.

There were long lines outside bakeries in Tunis on Monday morning as people started buying provisions after several days when shops were shut and most people stayed inside their houses.

Government offices were open for the first time since Thursday, though some employees said they would stay at home because they did not think traveling was safe.

Tunisia`s crisis, which began when a man set himself on fire after police seized his vegetable cart, seemed to be prompting copycat burnings. Four men were reported to have set themselves ablaze in Algeria, one in Egypt and one in Mauritania.

The crisis also raised fears for the economies of neighboring countries. The cost of insuring north African nations` debt against default rose sharply on Monday.

Egyptian stocks posted their biggest drop in seven months and the pound dipped to its weakest in almost six years on Monday as investors feared turmoil in Tunisia could spread.

The Tunis stock exchange was closed for Monday.

Bureau Report



First Published: Monday, January 17, 2011 - 23:47

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