Protestors in the Tunisian capital of Tunis kept up the pressure on the government to rid itself of ties to the old guard Thursday as the country’s newly appointed transitional cabinet held its first session.
Shortly before the cabinet meeting opened, Tunisian state TV reported that all eight ministers of the interim unity government who had previously been linked to former Tunisian President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally party (RCD) had resigned their party memberships.
According to the broadcast, the RCD’s once-powerful central committee had been dissolved as many committee members, who were also government ministers, had quit the party under opposition pressure. The party itself would continue to operate, the report said.
Reporting from Tunis, FRANCE 24’s Chris Moore said the RCD, which ruled Tunisia for several decades, has increasingly become the target of public anger following the inclusion of top ministers linked to Ben Ali in the new transitional government.
“The focal point of the demonstrations in Tunis today has shifted from the main Avenue Bourguiba to the headquarters of the RCD party,” said Moore. “The message from the protestors is, ‘We want the RCD out’. Protestors say that with these symbolic resignations by the prime minister and the interim government from the party, they are effectively taking the people for fools.”
Moore, however, added that inside the RCD headquarters, a senior party official insisted that under Ben Ali, Tunisians didn’t really have a choice - if they needed to get ahead, they had to be card-holding members of the party. “Now they insist they are simply civil servants charged with running the country and paving the way for elections,” said Moore.
While the public directed its anger at RCD symbols Thursday, Moore said the protests turned out to be “fairly good natured,” although police fired a few warning shots at the start of the demonstration.
A wave of RCD resignations
Nearly a week after Ben Ali fled for Saudi Arabia, the newly appointed transitional unity government is struggling to stabilize Tunisia, once considered a model of stability in the Arab world. But the week’s events underline just how difficult the task will be.
Four cabinet ministers linked to the country’s main trade union and opposition parties resigned Monday in protest over the inclusion of the old guard in the new government.
Three critical portfolios – including the foreign, defence and interior ministries – were given to veteran Tunisian politicians linked with the ruling RDC party.
On Tuesday, interim President Foued Mebazaa and Prime Minister Ghannouchi announced their resignation from the RCD party.
But as the Tunisian public kept up the pressure, other ministers from the RDC tendered their resignations Thursday.
Tracking Ben Ali’s overseas assets
Meanwhile Tunisian authorities were attempting to track Ben Ali’s overseas assets as well as those of his wife’s family.
Speaking to the AFP on Thursday, an unnamed EU source said the 27-member grouping had agreed in principle to freeze the Ben Ali’s family assets. According to the source, the EU was awaiting a list from the new Tunisian authorities of those to be targeted by the sanctions.
On Wednesday, Tunisian state television reported the arrest of 33 members of Ben Ali’s family for “crimes against Tunisia”. Many of the former president’s family were said to have profited from their connections to the regime.
The government also said its prosecutors had opened an investigation into the family’s overseas assets, while the Swiss government moved to freeze their funds in Swiss banks.