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Tunisians in fresh protests against new government

Tunisian protesters have called for fresh protests against the continued presence of figures from the ousted President Ben Ali's regime in the national unity government announced this week.

 AFP- Tunisia faced fresh protests against its new government on Wednesday, as the new leadership sought to defuse public anger against the former ruling RCD party after the pull-out of four ministers.

Interim president Foued Mebazaa and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi on Tuesday quit the RCD, which has dominated Tunisia for decades.

But Ghannouchi and seven other ministers from the previous government under Ben Ali

Tunisian government to hold first cabinet meeting on Thursday

held on to their posts including the interior and defence ministries.

"Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water," Tunisia's Le Quotidien daily commented in an editorial that said the new national unity government was temporary and would prepare for democratic elections.

"The resentment is legitimate but it should not transform itself into a blind hatred that blocks the victorious march of the Tunisian people towards liberty," said the independent daily.

"The creation of a national unity government is the only path towards this final victory. The participation of the RCD in this government should not be a source of discord or a stumbling block," it said.

Opinions were divided among Tunisian Internet users, with some calling for the protests to continue and others defending the fledgling government.

"Let's be pragmatic and help our transitional government prepare constitutional texts that will install true political pluralism in our country. Long live Tunisian democracy," one Facebook user wrote.

Another wrote: "Down with the RCD! Down with the presidential regime!"

There were calls on the Internet for a rally outside the imposing and heavily guarded headquarters of the RCD in the centre of Tunis at 1000 GMT.

Article 57 of Tunisia's constitution states that in case the Presidency of the Republic becomes vacant, the President of the National Parliament is invested temporarily with the functions of the Republic for a maximum period of 60 days.

During this period he has to organise new presidential election.

An interim president does not hold the right to dissolve parliament, stand for elections or change the constitution.

Thousands protested across Tunisia on Tuesday, with police firing volleys of tear gas in the centre of Tunis to disperse demonstrations as four ministers pulled out of the government just a day after it was announced.

In an apparent bid for survival, the RCD also officially expelled Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia in disgrace Friday after 23 years of iron-fisted rule after a wave of protests in which dozens of people were killed.

The tumultuous events in Tunisia -- dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution" -- have inspired dissident across the Arab world and sparked protests in various countries including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and Egypt.

Ben Ali was the first Arab leader in recent history to quit after protests.

The United States meanwhile welcomed reforms announced by the new government, including media freedoms and the liberation of all political prisoners, but said political change must broaden and deepen.

"Clearly the government has to take steps to meet the aspirations of the Tunisian people.... The interim government is moving in that direction," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

"We want to see an open process, significant dialogue between the government and significant groups that want to play a role in Tunisia's future," he added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Tunisia to hold "credible" elections to form a government backed by the whole nation, his spokesman said.

On Tuesday, two new ministers and a junior minister from Tunisia's main trade union -- a key player in the protests -- announced their withdrawal after the union refused to recognise the government.

The appointed health minister, FDLT leader Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who had yet to be sworn in, also said he would hold off on joining the government. Three opposition leaders including Ben Jaafar were appointed on Monday.

Tunisia's new leadership is due to hold parliamentary and presidential elections in the next six months, although no precise dates have been set. Under the constitution,

elections should be held in less than two months.

The banned Islamist Ennahdha (Awakening) movement said it would seek to acquire legal status as a political party to take part in the elections.

One of Ben Ali's fiercest critics, Moncef Marzouki -- who has said he intends to run in the presidential election -- also returned to Tunisia on Tuesday after years of exile in Paris, with emotional scenes at Tunis airport.

Marzouki said he would travel to the city of Sidi Bouzid in central Tunisia where social protests that escalated into a revolt against Ben Ali kicked off last month, calling the area "a land of martyrs and free people".



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