Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Clashes Erupt Over Tunisia's 'Sham' Government

Clashes erupt over Tunisia's 'sham' government

Protesters demand that new cabinet be purged of old guard that served ousted president

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia's new coalition government hit trouble Tuesday, with three ministers quitting and an opposition party threatening to walk out in protest at the presence of members of the party of the ousted president.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi brought opposition leaders into the coalition Monday after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following weeks of street protests. But key figures from the old guard kept their jobs, angering many.

Clashes broke out in central Tunis around the time the resignations were announced, as police fought off protesters demanding that the new cabinet be purged of the old guard that served Ben Ali.

Riot police in shielded helmets pummeled a protester to the ground with batons and boot kicks as other officers fired off tear gas grenades to disperse a crowd of several hundred demonstrators.

Protesters would scatter, but then regroup to continue.

"I am afraid that our revolution will be stolen from me and my people.
The people are asking for freedoms and this new government is not.

They are the ones who oppressed the people for 22 years," said Ines Mawdud, a 22-year-old student among protesters at the demonstration.

Several hundred people also protested against the new government in Monastir, south of Tunis.

Abid al-Briki of the Tunisian labor union UGTT said its three ministers would withdraw from the government because it included members of Ben Ali's RCD party.

"This is in response to the demands of people on the streets," Briki said.

The opposition ministers, who were given junior positions in the cabinet, are Houssine Dimassi, nominated for the training and employment portfolio, and two ministers of state, Abdeljelil Bedoui and Anouar Ben Gueddour.

The opposition Ettajdid party will pull out of the coalition if ministers from Ben Ali's RCD party do not give up party membership and return to the state all properties they obtained through the RCD, state television said.

Ettajdid leader Ahmed Ibrahim was named minister of higher education in the interim cabinet.

'An insult to the revolution'

On the streets, protesters insisted that ministers who had served Ben Ali had no place in the government.

"The new government is a sham. It's an insult to the revolution that claimed lives and blood," said student Ahmed al-Haji.

"The problem with the interim government is it has a number of ministers from the old government," protester Sami bin Hassan said.

Ghannouchi defended his government, saying some ministers had been kept on because they were needed in the run-up to elections, expected in the next two months.

The prime minister said the ministers of defense, interior, finance and foreign affairs under Ben Ali would retain their jobs in the new government.

"We have tried to put together a mix that takes into account the different forces in the country to create the conditions to be able to start reforms," Ghannouchi told Europe 1 radio.

Ghannouchi rejected suggestions that the Ben Ali "dictatorship" would continue under a new guise.

His foreign minister, Kamel Morjane, said during a visit to Egypt that the interim government would respond to issues that had angered protesters, such as corruption, and would be preparing for new elections.

"It may be possible that the next government will not have any member of the former government," he said.

Paris-based opposition leader Moncef Marzouki arrived at Tunis airport to be met by 200 cheering supporters.

"The revolution must continue," Marzouki, who went into exile after being harassed by Ben Ali's intelligence services, said.

The weeks of protests against poverty and unemployment in Tunisia which forced Ben Ali from office prompted fears across the Arab world that similarly repressive governments might also face popular unrest.

The government says at least 78 people were killed in the unrest, and the cost in damage and lost business was $2 billion.

A month of unrest has devastated the Mediterranean nation's tourist industry. Thousands of tourists have been evacuated, and Germany's tour operator TUI AG said Tuesday it is canceling all departures to Tunisia through Feb. 15.

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