Najib Chebbi (pictured), a former opposition leader turned minister, said Wednesday that all remaining political prisoners of the Ben Ali era had been freed, including members of a banned Islamist movement.
REUTERS - Tunisia said it freed the last political prisoners of its fallen strongman on Wednesday as the new caretaker leadership faced more calls for a fuller purge of the old guard from the fledgling national unity coalition.
Najib Chebbi, whose move this week from marginalised opposition leader to a ministerial appointment in the new cabinet is emblematic of the new Tunisia, told Reuters: "All the political prisoners have been released today."
They included members of the banned Islamist movement Ennahda. But figures were not available of how many people had been released.
Secrecy under veteran former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia, meant that the number of those detained for political reasons was never made public.
While authoritarian Arab rulers have long cited the threat of radical Islam to justify repressive rule to their Western allies, Tunisia's Islamist opposition has been less visible than those in poorer and less secular states of the region.
Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in the Tunisian capital on Wednesday to demand the dismissal of former Ben Ali loyalists from the new government headed by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who was himself premier under the old leadership.
He is due to hold a first cabinet meeting on Thursday.
Four opposition figures quit the government within a day of being appointed, saying protesters were disappointed at how many old faces were kept on. They feared, they said, that the people were being denied the fruits of their "Jasmine Revolution".