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Prime minister purges Ben Ali allies but holds on to post

Several key ministers with ties to ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have left Tunisia's transitional government after a major cabinet reshuffle, but Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi (pictured) stays on.


REUTERS - The Tunisian government will ditch ministers from the former ruling party in a line-up backed by the country's powerful labour union, political and union sources said on Thursday.

The endorsement by the labour union could help quell protests which ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, and then carried on to demand his loyalists be dismissed.
Political and union sources said Tunisia's new government would keep Mohamed Ghannouchi as prime minister but include no other members of the former ruling RCD party.
The labour union, which has a large membership and played an important role in organising the protests, will not join the new government itself but will approve the new lineup, a union source told Reuters.
'Opinion divided in the streets of Tunis'

Earlier on Thursday, thousands of demonstrators thronged Bourguiba Avenue, the main boulevard in the capital Tunis, demanding that the government resign. They also broke through police lines outside the prime minister's office, where hundreds of demonstrators had pledged to camp out until the government resigned.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 when weeks of violent protests against poverty, repression and corruption toppled him after 23 years in power.
Since then, the interim government that included many former ruling party officials had struggled to impose order.
Political and union sources said the new lineup would include two ministers from Ben Ali's old government -- the industry and international cooperation ministers -- but neither of these was a member of his ruling RCD party.
State television also said Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane -- who quit the RCD party last week -- had resigned from the interim government.
Tunisia inspires protests across Mideast
Tunisia's uprising has electrified Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, where many countries share the complaints of poor living standards and authoritarian rule.
Inspired by Tunisia's example, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, clashing with police who fired tear gas and used water cannon.
In addition to the cabinet reshuffle, Tunisia is aiming to set up a council of "wise men" to guide the country to democracy from the authoritarian state run by Ben Ali.

Veteran politician Ahmed Mestiri, a prominent figure during the era of Tunisia's independence leader Habib Bourguiba, said he hoped to head the council.

"The council would protect the revolt that broke out spontaneously. The time has come for the process to be structured," Mestiri, 80, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Amnesty International said that it had established that security forces used disproportionate force to disperse protesters and in some cases fired on fleeing protesters and bystanders.
The human rights group said doctors' testimonies seen by its researchers show that some protesters were shot from behind, indicating that they were fleeing. Others were killed by single shots to the chest or head, suggesting deliberate intent to kill.
"This shocking evidence confirms that the Tunisian security forces were using lethal methods to quell discontent and to deter protesters," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International's Middle East North Africa Programme.
In the unrest that brought down Ben Ali, the United Nations has said that 117 died, including 70 killed by gunfire.
A U.N. human rights team begins work in Tunisia later on Thursday. The 8-strong team will investigate past violations and advise the interim government on justice and reforms.
Tunisia's interim government had begun to compensate the families of those killed or wounded in weeks of protests, the state news agency said.
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