Tuesday, January 18, 2011
TUNIS: Tunisia’s premier appointed opposition figures to a new unity government Monday, trying to establish political stability after violent street protests brought down the president last Friday and left more than 78 people dead, according to government figures.
Interior Minister Ahmad Friaa also said 94 civilians have been injured. He said members of security forces have also been killed but did not say how many. The interior minister told reporters Tunisia’s economy lost some $2 billion amid the troubles.
Prime Minister Mohammad Ghannouchi also said the government was committed to releasing all political prisoners and that anyone with great wealth or suspected of corruption would face investigation.
About 1,000 protesters took to the streets earlier in the day demanding that the ruling party of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali give up power and some said they would not accept members of the Ben Ali government in the new coalition. Security forces used water cannons and tear gas and fired shots in the air to disperse the protest, which ended peacefully.
The ministers of defense, interior, finance and foreign affairs will keep their jobs in the new Cabinet and opposition leaders including Najib Chebbi will have posts, the prime minister said.
Ghannouchi named Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party which opposed Ben Ali, as minister of regional development.
Opposition figures Ahmad Ibrahim and Mustafa Ben Jaafar will also have cabinet posts, Ghannouchi said.
“We are committed to intensifying our efforts to re-establish calm and peace in the hearts of all Tunisians. Our priority is security, as well as political and economic reform,” Ghannouchi said.
Slim Amamou, a dissident Tunisian blogger arrested under Ben Ali was included in the new government as the secretary of state for youth and sports while Moufida Tlatli, a famous film director, was named as the new culture minister.
Ghannouchi said all non-governmental associations that seek it would be automatically recognized, and all the restrictions on the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights would be lifted. He added that the government would create three new state commissions to study political reform, investigate corruption and bribery and examine abuses during the recent upheaval.
But one of Tunisia’s best known opposition figures, Moncef Marzouki, branded Monday the new Cabinet a “masquerade” still dominated by supporters of Ben Ali. He told France’s I-Tele that Ben Ali’s supporters in the R.D.C. had retained key Cabinet posts, including the Interior Ministry “which is supposed to organize elections.” Marzouki told Reuters separately he would be a candidate in a presidential election.
On the streets of Tunis, citizens were similarly skeptical. Mohammad Mishrgi said: “We do not trust this government because there are the same faces, like Ghannouchi, Morjane and particularly Friaa. He has changed nothing. It’s as if Ben Ali’s system is still there.” Another passerby, Hosni Saidani, added: “It is difficult to trust these people because they participated in Ben Ali’s system but they did not have the courage to say to him ‘stop.’ So how can they make a change toward democracy?”
Parliament Speaker Fouad Mebazza, sworn in as interim president, had asked Ghannouchi to form a government of national unity, and constitutional authorities said a presidential election should be held within 60 days.
Leading Tunisian economist Moncef Cheikhrouhou said the Central Bank had told him that Ben Ali’s family had taken 1.5 tons of gold worth $66 million out of the country. Militia men loyal to Ben Ali had tried to raid the Central Bank Sunday to remove more gold but had been routed by the army, he told Reuters.
Overnight, shooting could be heard in parts of Tunis, following clashes between special forces and members of the former president’s security detail Sunday.
Tanks and soldiers were stationed on the streets of Tunis, and the U.S. Embassy said it would evacuate family members of its staff to Rabat Tuesday.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon called for the establishment of the rule of law in Tunisia.
The E.U. meanwhile offered immediate help to organize “free and fair, inclusive elections.”
France denounced Monday what it said were the “criminal gangs” that it said were opposing the change of government in Tunisia. President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism official, John Brennan, said the U.S. stands ready to help the Tunisian government in holding “free and fair elections in the near future that reflect the true will and aspirations” of Tunisians. – With agencies