Tunisia to hold elections by mid-July as protests flare

Tens of thousands of protesters took to streets demanding resignation of PM.

Last Updated: Feb 26, 2011, 15:58 PM IST

Tunis: Tunisia`s interim government said on Friday it will hold elections by mid-July as tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets demanding the resignation of its prime minister, an ally of ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

One young protester was injured when warning shots were fired at protesters, a witness said.

The government "has decided that consultations with different political parties should not exceed mid-March.... Elections will be organised at the latest in mid-July 2011”, the official TAP news agency said, quoting a cabinet statement.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi`s regime also announced that it had seized the financial and real estate assets belonging to 110 members of Ben Ali`s entourage following similar action on 46 other members, TAP reported. It has already issued arrest warrants for Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi.

The announcements came as demonstrators marched down the capital`s main avenue towards shouting "Ghannouchi Leave" and "Revolution Until Victory”. Police estimated the number of people at over 100,000.

It was the biggest of several rallies against the transitional authority since the fall of long-time ruler Ben Ali on January 14 following weeks of demonstrations, protesters and Red Crescent workers estimated.

The injured protester, a 22-year-old man, was hurt when police fired dozens of warning shots to prevent demonstrators attempting to climb into the Interior Ministry through its windows, a witness said.

Security forces also launched tear gas to disperse crowds that were throwing rocks. Young protestors set fire to tyres and smashed up vehicles owned by bureaucrats that were parked behind the ministry from where a black fume poured out.

Tunsians, whose uprising sparked others rocking the Arab world, are angry that figures from Ben Ali`s authoritarian regime, such as Ghannouchi, are still in power and fear their revolution could be hijacked.

"We are here today to topple the government," said Tibini Mohamed, a 25-year-old student.

Ghannouchi`s caretaker government, established on January 17 and tasked with leading Tunisia to elections, has faced regular protests demanding it root out vestiges of the old regime.

Ghannouchi, prime minister under Ben Ali from 1999, bowed to the pressure and removed some of the controversial figures in a January 27 reshuffle.

His government has introduced several reforms but has not yet fixed a date for the election, meant to be held within six months from Ben Ali`s ouster.

Ghannouchi left his offices in the Kasbah complex late January after the first protests, which lasted nearly a week.

Tunisians "are living in a political vacuum”, a law student who gave his name only as Ramzi said at the Kasbah rally, against a background of continuing instability after the uprising and as Tunisians see little improvement to their daily lives.

"We demand the firing of the whole government and of Ghannouchi," he said, among youths who were draped in the Tunisian flag.

Demonstrators, mobilised over Facebook, also shouted slogans against Ben Ali`s Constitutional Democratic Assembly party, which was suspended on February 06 ahead of its dissolution.

On Sunday, 4,000 people protested in front of the Kasbah to demand the sacking of the transitional government as well as the election of a Constituent Assembly and installation of a parliamentary system.

The fall of Ben Ali after 23 years in power sparked similar uprisings in the Arab world, including one that led to the downfall of long-time Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak on February 11 and another under way in Libya.

Bureau Report