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Dozens injured as protesters and police clash in Tunis

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-29

Violent protests continued Friday injuring several demonstrators in Tunisia as police and protesters clashed in the capital, Tunis, a day after most ministers from the former ruling party were removed in a cabinet reshuffle.

AP - Tunisian police fired tear gas to clear about 1,000 angry protesters from a square where they had been camped out for days, even as many Tunisians welcomed the new interim government that dropped most ministers from the former ruling party.

It was a sign that its concessions may calm down the daily demonstrations that have disrupted life for weeks. In a chaotic scene, police used tear gas Friday to clear the protesters from in front of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi’s office, and later from Bourguiba Avenue, the capital’s main thoroughfare.

The North African nation was celebrating a full two weeks free of the iron-fisted rule of its longtime strongman.

“Finally the Deliverance” ran a hopeful front page headline in the French-language daily Le Quotidien, while rival daily Le Temps asked “Appeasement?”

Street protesters have demanded the removal of ministers tied to ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 after 23 years in power.

Ghannouchi’s appointment on Thursday of independents to three key posts in the country’s new interim Cabinet, removing ministers from the former ruling party, was a major concession to the demonstrators.

“I think the pressure that was put on the government has borne its fruit, meaning that we have obtained good concessions,” said Kamel Ben Hamida, a resident of Tunis. “It would be more reasonable to stop asking for the government to fall.”

But other citizens are angry that Ghannouchi, a longtime crony of Ben Ali, is staying on in the new Cabinet despite calls for his ouster.

“We don’t agree with that decision. This is against the will of the people. We want the resignation of the entire government including Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi,” said Mohamed Boukhres, a demonstrator camped outside the prime minister’s office.

The new interim Cabinet, Tunisia’s second in 10 days, is a caretaker government intended to prepare for elections in six to seven months. Ghannouchi said the elections will be organized by an independent national commission and overseen by international observers to ensure the vote is “honest and transparent.” He did not offer a date for the ballot.

The new Cabinet includes 12 new ministers and nine holdovers from the prior interim government that had been named on Jan. 17, in addition to Ghannouchi.

The newcomers include Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi, Defense Minister Abdelkrim Zbidi, and Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Ounaies. Only three ministers in the government named Thursday have roots in Ben Ali’s RCD party, compared to 10 in the previous interim Cabinet.

Speaking on national TV, Ghannouchi said the new Cabinet should begin work on political reforms sought by some opposition parties, including new laws on elections, anti-terrorist legislation and press freedom.

“(We will) undertake economic and social reforms to spur a rebound in all sectors and improve living conditions for Tunisians in all parts of the country,” he said.

Many protesters had been angry over the lack of jobs, corruption and repression under Ben Ali.

Ghannouchi urged Tunisians to “demonstrate civilized behavior ... (so) the revolution can be a success.”

The powerful UGTT union announced it would refuse to join the interim Cabinet, saying it preferred to remain in opposition.

Date created : 2011-01-28

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