A day after quitting the ruling party of former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's interim President Foued Mebazaa promised a clean break with the past as protesters continued to press for the departure of the old guard.
AFP - Tunisia's interim president on Wednesday promised a "total break" with the past and hailed "a revolution of dignity and liberty," as prosecutors opened a vast inquiry against the previous leader.
Investigators will look into the extensive domestic and foreign assets held by former president Zine El Abdine Ben Ali, who resigned abruptly on Friday and fled to Saudi Arabia after a wave of social protests against his regime.
Tunisian government to hold first cabinet meeting on Thursday
"Together we can write a new page in the history of our country," Foued Mebazaa said in an address to the nation in which he also vowed to ensure an amnesty for political prisoners, media freedoms and an independent judiciary.
The new government is to hold its first cabinet meeting on Thursday amid protests against the inclusion of old regime figures and for the abolition of Ben Ali's once all-powerful Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party.
In his first public appearance since being sworn into office on Saturday, Mebazaa thanked the army for ensuring security during recent days of chaos.
"We have discovered those responsible for the terror in our country. We have arrested these armed gangs," he said.
He also paid homage to "the martyrs of dignity and liberty" -- a reference to the dozens of people killed in the protests.
Thousands of Tunisians rallied against the new government earlier Wednesday.
"We want a new parliament, a new constitution, a new republic! People rise up against the Ben Ali loyalists!" some 2,000 protesters chanted at a peaceful protest in the centre of Tunis -- one of several around the country.
Negotiations over the inclusion of the main UGTT trade union in the new government also broke down, following the pull-out of four ministers Tuesday.
"We cannot take part in a government that includes symbols of the old regime," Abdessalem Jrad, secretary general of the UGTT labor union after a meeting with Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.
The government meanwhile gave legal status to three parties barred under the previous administration and freed a dissident journalist, Fahem Boukadous, who was sentenced to four years in prison last year for his work.
The central bank also took over a bank owned by Ben Ali's brother-in-law in the first such move against assets controlled by the former strongman's influential family, which formed the core of Tunisia's business elite.
The authorities also shortened a curfew in place for several days, saying the security situation had improved. But a state of emergency banning public assemblies remains and police have orders to shoot anyone running away.
Traffic was visibly heavier in Tunis and some shops and offices re-opened.
But Ghannouchi and seven other ministers from the previous government under Ben Ali held on to their posts including the interior and defence ministries.
"Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water," Tunisia's Le Quotidien daily commented in an editorial that emphasised the new national unity government was temporary and would prepare for democratic elections.
"The participation of the RCD in this government should not be a source of discord or a stumbling block," it said.
The tumultuous events in Tunisia -- dubbed the "Jasmin Revolution" -- have inspired dissidents across the Arab world and sparked protests in numerous countries including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Egypt.
Tunisia's new leadership is due to hold democratic parliamentary and presidential elections in the next six months, although no dates have been set. Under the constitution, elections should be held in less than two months.
The banned Islamist Ennahdha (Awakening) movement has said it will seek to acquire legal status as a political party to take part in the elections.
One of Ben Ali's fiercest critics, Moncef Marzouki -- who has said he intends to run in the presidential election -- also returned to Tunisia on Tuesday after years of exile in Paris, amid emotional scenes at Tunis airport.
Key figures in Tunisian politics
The 78-year-old speaker of parliament was sworn in as Tunisia’s interim president a day after Tunisian strongman Ben Ali fled for Saudi Arabia. A veteran politician, Mebazaa is the chairman of the ruling RDC (Democratic Constitutional Rally) party. (Photo: AFP)
Nicknamed "Tunisia's computer,” Ghannouchi is considered the architect of Ben Ali’s economic policies. A former finance minister, he became PM in 1999. A technocrat and close Ben Ali associate, Ghannouchi served as acting president for a day following Ben Ali's ouster.
A seasoned diplomat, Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane, 62, is considered a “new man” in politics. His political career began in 2005, when he was appointed defence minister. Educated abroad, Morjane worked previously for UNHCR.(Photo: AFP)
A prominent opposition figure, Najib Chebbi founded, in 1983, the Progressive Socialist Rally, which was renamed the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) in 2001. He was appointed minister of regional development in the transitional unity government. (Photo: AFP)
In 2006, Maya Jribi became the PDP’s secretary-general, the first woman to hold such a post in Tunisia. Jibri, 50, is a biologist by training. Under Ben Ali, the PDP was legally recognized but it had no representatives in parliament. (Photo: AFP)
Mustapha Ben Jaafar was vice president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights before helping found the opposition party FTDL(Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties) in 1994. He was appointed transitional health minister in the new unity government. (Photo: AFP)
A former senior member of the Tunisian Communist Party, Ahmed Brahim, 64, is one of the founders of the Ettajdid (Renewal) party. He ran for president in the 2009 election. Ibrahim was appointed minister for higher education in the national unity government.(Photo:AFP)
A prominent opposition figure, Hamma Hammami, 59, was jailed several times for his campaign against Ben Ali’s power. He spent part of his life in hiding. The Communist Party, banned in Tunisia, was not invited to negotiations to form a unity government.
Leader of the Islamist Ennahdha (Renaissance) party, Rashid Ghannouchi has lived in exile in London since 1989. Following Ben Ali’s ouster, Ghannouchi, 69, says he is a moderate and advocates the Islamist and democratic principles of Turkey’s ruling AKP party.
His suicide sparked off the protests against Ben Ali's regime.
"I'm not here for politics. I'm here to pay homage to a region thanks to which Tunisia is acquiring its freedom. It's thanks to this region that I am here in Tunisia. It's my duty to come here," Marzouki told AFP.
Date created : 2011-01-19