Tunis: The head of Tunisia`s main
union body said on Friday that Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi
had agreed to meet critics demanding his removal amid signs
that mass protests were running out of steam.
The day after Ghannouchi sacked key allies of
deposed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, there were none of
the usual chants and slogans among the hundreds of protesters
camped out in front of his offices since Sunday.
Although his culling of Ben Ali associates such as
the defence and interior minister had not totally silenced
calls for his own head, Ghannouchi seemed to have won
breathing space from some of his most powerful critics.
The head of the powerful UGTT union which had
refused to endorse the government until there has been a clean
break fronm the Ben Ali era said that he had been acting as an
intermediary between the premier and the protesters.
Abdessalam Jrad told that his umbrella union
was attempting to persuade the protesters to return to their
homes after the formation of a new transitional government.
Jrad said the protestors had told him that they
wanted to go home.
"I told them that before they go they should tell
me their demands and nominate five or six of you so that we
can go to see the prime minister and explain your demands," he
Jrad said that when he called the prime minister to
ask whether he was willing to meet the protestors`
representatives, he replied: "We are ready."
Tunisian newspapers were generally positive about
the government changes, with a headline in Le Quotidien daily
reading: "Deliverance, At Last".
But the more ambiguous headline in Le Temps said:
"The Appeasement?” hinting at the degree of scepticism still
Ghannouchi yeterday said he was staying on but
replaced five ministers from Ben Ali`s last government whose
control of key posts had been decried by protesters. Three
former allies of Ben Ali, including Ghannouchi himself,
"This is a temporary government with a clear
mission -- to allow a transition to democracy," Ghannouchi
said in an address on state television.
Kamel Morjane, who announced his resignation
shortly before the reshuffle was announced, was replaced as
foreign minister by Ahmed Ounais, a Paris-educated career
diplomat and former ambassador to Moscow and New Delhi.
Farhat Rajhi, a former chief prosecutor, was
appointed as interior minister and Abdelkarim Zebidi, a
medical professor, took over defence.
The changes failed to satisfy everyone among the
"The whole government has to go, especially
Ghannouchi," said Khaled Salhi, a 22-year-old student who
called the reshuffle just "playing for time."