Saturday, January 22, 2011
Lin Noueihed and Andrew Hammond
TUNIS: Anti-government protesters rallied Friday as Tunisia began three days of mourning for the dozens of people killed during the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia’s interim government, which took over after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last week in the face of widespread popular unrest, has faced continued protests by crowds angry that members of the old guard are still in the Cabinet.
Hundreds protested peacefully in central Tunis Friday and outside the headquarters of the state-owned Tunisian Transport Company, demanding the removal of senior officials from Ben Ali’s era.
An employee, who gave his name as Moftah, said: “This company has corrupt people and it’s time to demand our rights. We’re not going to be silent about this. We want this minority out.”
In central Tunis crowds chanted: “We won’t accept this government, we will never accept it.”
Outside the prime minister’s office, protesters jostled Ahmad Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Ettajdid Party and of higher education minister in the new Cabinet, apparently angered at his role in a government they dislike.
State TV also showed hundreds of people protesting against the government in the southwestern town of Gafsa, Sfax on the coast and Tataouine in the far south.
Three days of national mourning were announced late Thursday for the victims of the unrest that convulsed Tunisia for several weeks. The government says at least 78 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, while the United Nations has put the toll at around 100.
The new government said schools and universities would reopen Monday and sporting events, also on hold since last week, would resume soon.
The government offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including the banned Islamist opposition. Some political analysts say moderate Islamists could attract more followers in post-Ben Ali Tunisia than their secular rivals like to admit.
“The Islamist movement was the most oppressed of all the opposition movements under Ben Ali. Its followers are also much greater in number than those of the secular opposition,” said Salah Jourchi, a Tunisian expert on Islamic movements.
Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during Ben Ali’s 23-year rule had been released.
“We are in agreement for a general amnesty,” Higher Education Minister Ibrahim said on Thursday.
Tunisian state TV showed pictures of weapons being removed from the homes of Ben Ali family members. “This shows the excesses of this family,” it said.