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Tunisian foreign minister resigns ahead of cabinet reshuffle

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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-27

Tunisia's Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane (pictured) resigned from the country's fragile interim unity government Thursday, as it struggles to negotiate the terms of an imminent cabinet reshuffle, according to state media.

AFP - Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane resigned on Thursday amid tense negotiations over an overhaul of the cabinet, as a key Islamist leader prepared to return after more than 20 years in exile.

Morjane was one of eight ministers including Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi from the last government of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who stayed on in the new line-up, sparking massive public anger.

He said he was quitting "in support of the actions of the national unity government in leading the country to a stable future and so that the popular revolution can bear fruit," the state news agency TAP reported.

Further changes to the cabinet were imminent, several sources told AFP, as the caretaker administration scrambled to calm protests and restore order to a country that is still in tumult after Ben Ali's downfall on January 14.

The UGTT, which played a key role in anti-Ben Ali protests and has led opposition to the current government, said Thursday it would not be joining any new cabinet line-up but would agree to Ghannouchi staying in power.

The prime minister, who has been in charge since 1999, has said he will resign only after the country holds its first democratic elections.

The government has eased a curfew and ordered schools and universities to re-open, but many have stayed shut because of strike action by teachers.

Thousands of protesters meanwhile kept up their daily rallies in the streets of Tunisia, calling for old regime politicians to be swept from power and for the abolition of Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party.

There were protests in the capital Tunis as well as in Sidi Bouzid, a poor rural town in central Tunisia where rallies against Ben Ali's 23-year authoritarian regime began last month and grew into a national uprising.

"God is great! We will stay loyal the blood of the martyrs of the revolution!" the Sidi Bouzid protesters chanted -- a reference to the dozens killed in a bloody crackdown by Ben Ali that failed to stem the revolt.

Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the popular Ennahdha (Awakening) Islamist movement, also prepared to return to Tunisia on Sunday after more than 20 years of forced exile, a spokesman for the movement in Paris told AFP.

"He will not return triumphantly, claiming a place in the government, but as a simple citizen," the spokesman said. A spokesman for Ghannouchi's office in London said: "The dictator has left and he expects to come back as a free man."

The Islamist still officially has a life sentence hanging over him but in practice convicted political exiles have returned freely in recent days.

He founded Ennahdha in 1981 and says it is now a moderate force similar to Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP) that will take part in elections.

The ripples of the Arab world's first popular revolt in recent history have been felt across the region, where difficult social and economic conditions have created widespread popular discontent against long-established regimes.

Thousands of Yemenis demonstrated in the capital on Thursday, calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to go. He has been in power since 1978.

Protests also raged in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, for a third day on Thursday in clashes that have left seven people dead.

Tunisia's government has moved quickly to grant unprecedented democratic freedoms, including lifting strict controls on the media, releasing political prisoners and legalising previously banned political parties.

It has also frozen Ben Ali's assets and issued international arrest warrants for the ex-ruler and six members of his once all-powerful family on charges of illegal transfers of funds abroad and illicit acquisition of assets.

Ben Ali has sought refuge in Saudi Arabia and other family members have scattered across the globe, but 33 of them have been arrested in Tunisia.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said members of Tunisia's former regime were "not welcome" in his country, following reports that Belhassen Trabelsi, Ben Ali's billionaire brother-in-law had sought refuge there.

Date created : 2011-01-27

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