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Protests continue in Tunis despite Ben Ali's pledge to go

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-14

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Tunis to demand the immediate resignation of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a day after the embattled leader promised not to seek a sixth term in office.

President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali shocked the nation Thursday night when he promised to step down at the end of his fifth and final term, ruling out an expected lifelong presidency.

“I repeat now, no presidencies for life. I refuse to touch the constitution,” he said on national TV.
The 74-year-old, in power since 1987, had been widely expected to change the constitution in order to run for another term.
Nonetheless, some 5,000 angry demonstrators marched outside the interior ministry Friday shouting "Get out Ben Ali!” The latest action comes four weeks into protests sparked by the suicide of a young graduate who set himself alight because he was unable to find a job.
Ben Ali had accused the protestors of terrorism and ordered a massive crackdown, deploying riot police in the streets and blocking popular websites. However, on Thursday Ben Ali made a complete turnaround by ordering police to put down their arms and vowing to liberalise the political system. 
Demonstrators complain of mass unemployment and government repression. Rights groups say 66 people have been killed in clashes with the police, while the government puts the number at 23.
Unity government “totally normal”
While the protests continued in the capital Friday, Tunisian politicians sought to address the political transformation Ben Ali’s departure in 2014 will bring about.
Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane told French radio station Europe 1 on Friday that a national unity government would be feasible. He gave a significant leadership nod to Mohammed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP).  The PDP is legal but not represented in parliament.
"Given the conduct of people like Mr. Nejib Chebbi, I think it is feasible, even totally normal" to have a power-sharing deal, Morjane said.
Chebbi welcomed Ben Ali’s promises to step down, bring a halt to the crackdown and to reopen websites that have been shut down. "This speech is important politically and corresponds to the expectations of civil society and the opposition," the PDP party leader told Reuters. “Frankly I did not expect that he would touch on all these problems”.
Morjane also announced that Ben Ali is prepared to hold legislative elections before the presidential poll and has ordered the creation of commission which will “propose a revision of the electoral code”.
Ben Ali attempted to shift responsibility for the past month’s turmoil onto his advisers, which he said had "deceived” him. “I understand the Tunisians. I understand their demands,” he said. “I am sad about what is happening now after 50 years of service to the country, military service, all the different posts, 23 years of the presidency”.
However, not all Tunisians seemed to be convinced by the speech.
"It's yet to be seen whether this will calm the discontent", FRANCE 24 correspondent Cyril Vanier reported from the capital Friday before the new wave of demonstrations.



Date created : 2011-01-14