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Fledgling cabinet postpones first meeting amid protests

Protests resumed in the streets of Tunis Wednesday as calls for the departure of the ruling party of deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali continued to thrive through social media.


With stores reopened, traffic humming, and police standing guard, the atmosphere in the Tunisian capital on Wednesday was relatively normal compared to the violent clashes of previous days.

Still, hundreds of protesters marched through the centre of Tunis Wednesday singing nationalist songs and holding up anti-government signs.

Social media has played a key part in ensuring that the revolution against former President Ben Ali’s regime has lost none of its fire. Calls have continued on Facebook and in text messages for fresh protests against members of Ben Ali’s RCD party still in power after his ouster, despite efforts by the newly announced national unity to restore order.

‘RCD, Get Out’

The national unity cabinet is now expected to hold its first meeting on Thursday, with Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi under pressure from opposition leaders who contend that allies of former President Ben Ali should not be in the government.

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.

On Tuesday, Interim president Foued Mebazaa and Prime Minister Ghannouchi left the RCD party, but Ghannouchi and seven other ministers held on to their posts in the new coalition formation.

While some Tunisian Web users said the transition government should be allowed time to prepare reforms, the anti-RCD mood has not seemed to flag. One of the major Facebook groups through which Tunisians have been organising their demonstrations is called “RCD Dégage”, which means “RCD, Get Out”. The group’s page is flooded with messages like “Down with the RCD” written by users who have put that slogan front and centre in their profile photos.

Many have also posted a video of crowds of Tunisian protesters in the street waving their hands in the air while chanting “Dégage”, which means “Get out”. The moment shown in the video is being celebrated as an iconic turning point signifying the beginning of the fall of the Ben Ali regime.

Other Facebook users have been urging “another January 14”, referring to the day on which mass street protests ended up driving Ben Ali to flee the country. Aside from Tunis, Sousse (a city in Ben Ali’s native region) and Sfax, the second biggest Tunisian city, have been targeted as potential sites for large demonstrations.

After the start of protests in mid-December, the Tunisian government blocked Facebook pages created by protesters and arrested a handful of bloggers. But as in Iran’s Green Revolution, social media have enabled young Tunisians to at least partly circumvent the government’s control of information.

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