Tunis: Thousands rallied in Tunisia on Saturday
after the main trade union called for a new government of
"national salvation," as the prime minister promised the first
democratic elections since independence.
Demonstrators in Tunis were joined by dozens of
members of the police, discredited because of the bloody
crackdown on protests against president Zine El Abidine Ben
Ali that ultimately led to his ouster on January 14.
Officers said they were on the side of the
protestors and demanded higher pay.
Some of the officers briefly blocked a car carrying
interim president Foued Mebazaa, the speaker of parliament,
but it was later allowed to pass.
Public assemblies of more than three people are
officially banned under a state of emergency that remains in
place along with a night-time curfew.
Mebazaa has promised a "total break" with the old
regime and the government has unveiled key reforms such as the
release of all political prisoners and the legalisation of
political parties, but daily protests have continued.
Many Tunisians are angry at the inclusion of old
regime figures like Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi in the
new government and want the break-up of the former ruling
party, which has dominated Tunisia for decades.
The rallies in Tunis and in several towns in
central Tunisia have passed off mostly peacefully and have
drawn fewer people than the mass protests and violent clashes
seen in the final days of Ben Ali`s regime.
Ben Ali has fled to Saudi Arabia, leaving behind a
country in chaos.
Ghannouchi, who has kept his post despite the
revolt, vowed to quit politics after holding the north African
country`s first free and fair polls since independence from
France in 1956, in comments broadcast yesterday.
"After the transition, I will retire from political
life," said Ghannouchi, who has been prime minister since
1999. He also said that like many Tunisians he too was
"afraid" during Ben Ali`s 23-year regime.
"All undemocratic laws will be scrapped" during the
transition to democracy, he added, mentioning in particular
electoral, anti-terrorism and media laws.
He did not give a precise date for when elections
would be held, although he has previously said there will be a
vote within six months. Under the constitution elections
should officially take place within two months.
"The prime minister is sticking to the same tone,"
said opposition leader Mustapha Ben Jaafar, head of the
Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberty party, who had been
appointed as health minister in the new government but pulled