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President and PM quit ruling party but hold on to posts

Tunisian interim President Fouad Mebazaa and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned from the ruling party, state media announced Tuesday just hours after several ministers quit over the inclusion of party members in the new government.

Tunisia’s transitional president and prime minister resigned from the ruling RCD (Democratic Constitutional Rally) party Tuesday, hours after several ministers quit the national unity government in protest over the inclusion of senior ruling party members in the new administration.

Key figures in Tunisian politics
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Tunisian interim President Fouad Mebazaa and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi tended their resignations, state media reported Tuesday evening, following a day of angry demonstrations which saw thousands of Tunisians calling for an end to the party that has ruled the country for over two decades.

The two veteran politicians however remain in their positions as president and prime minister.

The RCD also expelled former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and six of his close associates in a bid to distance the party from the disgraced Tunisian strongman.

The resignations and expulsions from the ruling party came after three ministers allied with the UGTT (General Union of Tunisian Workers) announced their withdrawal after the country’s largest union refused to support the new national unity government, which contains eight ministers who served under Ben Ali.

Demonstrations rock central Tunis

Labour Minister Houssine Dimassi, junior Transportation Minister Anouar Ben Gueddour, and Abdeljelil Bedoui, a minister without portfolio, quit following an extraordinary UGTT meeting Tuesday.

Hours later, Health Minister Mustapha Ben Jaafar of the FDLT opposition party also announced his resignation.

Reporting from the Tunisian capital of Tunis shortly after a UGTT press conference, FRANCE 24’s Chris Moore said the trade union “simply has no confidence in this transitional government. Union representatives say it does not include people from civil society and from all political parties.”

Under Ben Ali’s 23-year reign, a number of political parties were banned and several opposition figures went into exile. In the lead-up to formation of the new national unity government, a number of banned opposition parties were not included in the coalition talks.

Once banned parties jostle on a new political stage

As once banned or sidelined political parties jostled to have a say in the new Tunisia, senior opposition leader Moncef Marzouki arrived in Tunis Tuesday to a jubilant reception by cheering supporters.

Marzouki, the head of the CPR (Congress for the Republic), returned to Tunisia after years of exile in Paris and told reporters he planned to run in the next presidential election.

Tunisia's banned Islamist Ennahdha movement is also planning to request official status as a political party, one of its leaders told the AFP Tuesday.

‘A new positive vibe’

The latest withdrawals came as demonstrators took to the streets in Tunis and several other cities Tuesday to voice their opposition to the continued presence of the ruling RCD in the new government.

On Monday, Prime Minister Ghannouchi announced a new government , which included established political figures as well as opposition members, in a bid to bring back political stability to the North African nation.

But key portfolios – including the defence, interior and foreign affairs – were retained by RCD members.

In an exclusive interview with FRANCE 24 Monday evening shortly after announcing the new government, Ghannouchi said the composition of the new administration was designed to “avoid a witch hunt and encourage national reconciliation.” Expressing his confidence in the transitional government, Ghannouchi said there was “a new, positive vibe” in Tunisia.

‘The burning smell of tear gas’

But more than three days after Ben Ali fled for Saudi Arabia, public anger in the once tightly controlled Arab nation showed no sign of abating as Tunisians once again took to the streets, some of them wielding placards that read, “RCD go home,” in English.

Reporting from downtown Tunis earlier Tuesday, FRANCE 24’s Cyril Vanier said police were firing tear gas into the crowds in an attempt to prevent very large gatherings in the heart of the city. “Once again, the burning smell of tear gas is spreading through the centre of the city,” said Vanier. “But for now, it seems like the police have instructions not to fire live rounds.”

At least 78 people have been killed since the start of the unrest in Tunisia, according to official figures, but opposition parties and rights groups say the toll is much higher. At a news conference Monday night, Tunisian Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa estimated that the economic cost so far in damaged property and lost business was 3 billion dinars ($2 billion).



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