- Reform - riots - Tunisia - unrest - Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali
Tunisians begin weekend of national mourning for victims of anti-government protests
Tunisia began to hold three days of national mourning on Friday for the dozens of people killed during protests before and after the ouster of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, state television reported.
REUTERS - Tunisia observes three days of national mourning from Friday for the dozens of people killed during protests before and after the ouster of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, state television said.
In a statement released after a cabinet meeting on Thursday, the government said schools and universities, closed since last week, would reopen on Monday.
Mohamed Aloulou, minister for youth and sport, told reporters after the cabinet meeting that sporting events, also on hold since last week, would resume "very soon".
At least 78 people have been killed since the start of Tunisia's uprising and the unrest has cost 3 billion dinars ($2.1 billion) in damages and lost business, Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa told state TV this week.
The new government, faced with violent street protests for retaining members of the deposed president's cabinet, offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including the banned Islamist opposition.
The pledge was issued at the ruling coalition's first cabinet meeting on Thursday. Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during Ben Ali's 23-year rule had been released.
"We are in agreement for a general amnesty," said Higher Education Minister Ahmed Ibrahim, an opposition party leader who joined the coalition after Ben Ali's removal.
The announcement followed another day of protests, with police firing shots into the air to try to disperse hundreds of demonstrators demanding that ministers associated with the rule of Ben Ali leave the government.
The protesters, who gathered outside the Tunis headquarters of the RCD, Tunisia's ruling party for several decades, refused to move back when police fired shots from behind a metal fence.
Protests also took place in other towns.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after weeks of unrest spurred by anger over poverty, unemployment and repression. The first popular revolt in generations to topple an Arab leader has sent shockwaves through the Arab world.
Officials quit party
The prime minister and caretaker president are both veteran former RCD members who quit the party this week. Protesters have kept up pressure for a government free of ties with Ben Ali and the old guard.
Other ministers in the interim government have resigned from the RCD in a bid to restore credibility after four opposition ministers quit the cabinet in protest.
Shooting and looting have declined in recent days but a resident in the Mouroudj neighbourhood, 5 km (three miles) from Tunis city centre, said police and the military intervened on Wednesday night after gunmen began shooting.
Helicopters flew overhead and security forces told people to stay indoors, the resident said.
With police lacking public credibility after playing a role in cracking down on unrest before Ben Ali's departure, the interim government is dependent on the army to maintain order.
Authorities say they have seized some assets from Ben Ali's family. State TV said a bank owned by Ben Ali's son-in-law had been placed under the control of the central bank.
The central bank on Thursday moved to reassure international creditors, saying it held enough foreign currency reserves to meet financial and commercial obligations.
It said it held 12.6 billion dinars ($8.8 billion) in reserves, enough to cover 143 days of import needs.