Thursday, January 20, 2011
TUNIS: Tunisia’s interim president Fouad Mebazza said Wednesday the political parties including the RCD of former ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali would be separated from the state in a “complete break with the past.”
Tunisia also said it freed the last political prisoners of its fallen strongman as the new caretaker leadership faced more calls for a fuller purge of the old guard from the fledgling national unity coalition.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last week after a popular uprising over poverty, corruption and political repression in a country dominated for decades by the RCD party.
“We are keen on separating the state from the RCD … there will be a complete break with the past,” Tunisian state television showed Mebazza as saying. The channel said a break between the state and all political parties would be a priority of the transitional government.
Mebazza pointed in his speech to the fact that he and Prime Minister Mohammad Ghannouchi had resigned from the RCD this week, after the criticism.
Some opposition leaders quit the national unity government – which is meant to prepare the path for free elections – over RCD ministers from the Ben Ali era continuing in their posts.
In the speech, Mebazza also said those responsible for a breakdown in order in the days following Ben Ali’s fall had been caught and he vowed to keep working to improve security.
“There has been an improvement in security and we want more. We have found all those responsible for the chaos, terrorizing the people and the spread of gangs,” he said, praising the uprising as a “revolution of freedom and dignity.”
“I will do all I can and use all my powers so our country gets over this difficult situation and so that all legitimate hopes created by this noble uprising are realized and so that this revolution of freedom and dignity is realized,” Mebazza said.
In another effort to ease tensions, the government released the last political prisoners. Earlier, Najib Chebbi, whose move this week from marginalized 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 Ben Ali meant that the number of those detained for political reasons was never made public.
Hundreds of protesters demonstrated in the Tunisian capital Wednesday to demand the dismissal of former Ben Ali loyalists from the new government headed by Ghannouchi.
He is due to hold a first Cabinet meeting Thursday.
About 500 people protested in Bourguiba Avenue in the center of Tunis Wednesday, fewer than in recent days.
The streets of Tunis were quiet overnight, with no shooting or looting. In a sign security was improving, state television said that the nightly curfew was shortened by three hours.
Moncef Marzouki, the leader of a small opposition party who returned to Tunisia from exile in France this week, visited the grave of Mohammad Bouazizi, who set fire to himself in an act of protest and started the wave of unrest which toppled Ben Ali.
Marzouki called for an independent figure to be appointed in place of the present prime minister to form a government.
“If the situation continues with a government built on this old dictatorship, the situation will continue on the street and what I want is for Tunisia to return to stability as soon as possible,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Opposition leader Chebbi told Reuters Wednesday that the government would also announce that RCD officials would no longer receive state salaries.
Underlining international concern over Tunisia, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about Washington’s desire for calm.
State television said the government released 1,800 prisoners serving less than six months for minor offenses. It was not clear if any of these included any political detainees.
France said it had intercepted a shipment of riot gear ordered by Ben Ali just before his downfall last week.
The United Nations said it would send a team of human rights officials to Tunisia next week to advise the new coalition government. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she had information that more than 100 people had died in the violence. The Tunisian government puts the figure at 78. – Reuters