by Sofia Bouderbala and Kaouther Larbi
Sat Jan 29, 2011
TUNIS (AFP) – Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi vowed a transition to democracy as hundreds of women rallied on Saturday in the Tunisian capital to express their fears of an Islamist resurgence.
Women's groups took to the streets of Tunis to defend the extensive rights for which they have fought for more than half a century, on the eve of the return of Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi from exile.
Actresses, university lecturers and human rights campaigners said they wanted to make sure their rights stay intact despite the recent upheavals.
Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahdha (Awakening) movement, is due in Tunis on Sunday, having fled the country in the early 1990s after Ben Ali cracked down on Islamists, which is still officially banned.
"We want to send an important message to the Islamists, especially those from the Ennahdha movement -- that we are not ready to pull back on or abandon our rights," said Sabah Mahmoudi, a university lecturer.
Relative calm returned to Tunisia's capital a day after a new transition cabinet was sworn in and interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi vowed a transition to democracy and an economic revival.
After violent clashes with police Friday, only a few dozen youths were out protesting against the "brutality" of police treatment after soldiers sealed off the city's Medina market area where much of the violence took place.
Police fired tear gas later on Saturday after some youths attacked shops.
In northwestern Tunisia, two policemen and a soldier were hurt in clashes with demonstrators who set fire to a local police headquarters late Friday, the TAP state news agency reported Saturday.
Security forces later succeeded in restoring calm, TAP said.
For its part, Human Rights Watch on Saturday called on the interim government to urgently investigate the killings of protesters by security forces earlier this month by the old regime.
"The units and commanders responsible for these apparently unlawful killings should be identified and held accountable," Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for the New York-based watchdog, said in Tunis.
The group said it had found evidence of at least 21 people killed with live ammunition earlier this month in the cities of Kasserine and Tala.
Tunisia's caretaker government said earlier that 78 people had been killed in total: the United Nations has said at least 100 people lost their lives.
Ghannouchi went on air late Friday to defend his reshuffled cabinet, saying talks on its composition had been opened "to all parties" including those from politics, civil society and universities.
"The two essential challenges facing Tunisia are the transition to democracy and relaunching economic activity" he told private television channel Nesma.
The country "has all the means necessary to succeed in this democratic transition that will allow all Tunisians, all political associations, to express themselves in complete freedom and to choose their leader after this transition phase," Ghannouchi said.
The 69-year-old prime minister -- a holdover from the Ben Ali regime who has been in office since 1999 -- has promised to hold democratic elections within six months.
Austria meanwhile announced it was freezing any possible assets belonging to Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi and close friends and relatives.
Switzerland has taken similar steps and the European Union is poised to do likewise.
On Wednesday, Tunis issued an international arrest warrant for Ben Ali, who with his wife and other members of his once all-powerful family is accused of illegally acquiring assets and transferring funds abroad during his 23-year rule.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia January 14 and 33 members of his extended family have been arrested in Tunisia.