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Protesters in Tunisia press for new-look government

Monday January 17, 2011 09:04:03 PM, DPA

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Tunis/Paris: Fresh protests erupted in Tunisia Monday, where hundreds of demonstrators marched to demand that the regime of ex-president Zine el-Abidine ben Ali be excluded from a national unity government to be announced later in the day.


In Tunis, a few hundred people demonstrated on the central Habib Bourguiba avenue, scene of a mass rally last Friday that preceded Ben Ali's flight from power.

Monday's demonstrators were calling for Ben Ali's ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party to be excluded from the interim government and a new constitution to be written.

Army troops fired into the air and used water cannon to disperse the demonstrators, while riot police fired tear gas at the protesters.

Similar anti-RCD protests were held in the central towns of Sidid Bouzid, where the uprising began in mid-December, and Regueb, French public radio reported.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi was preparing to unveil a new unity government that will run the country until the next elections, which must be held within 60 days of Ben Ali leaving power.

France's France Info public radio reported that several opposition figures were poised to become ministers.

Meanwhile, the race for the next presidency got underway with a prominent human rights activist and opposition leader announcing his candidacy.

Moncef Marzouki, the former head of the country's human rights league and current leader of the Congress for the Republic party, said he was preparing to begin campaigning for the job.

Under Ben Ali, the party of the 65-year-old professor of medicine, like several other parties, had been banned.

The March polls are set to be the first free elections to take place in the North African country for decades.

The European Union Monday vowed to provide "immediate assistance" in helping organize the elections.

Ben Ali, Tunisia's autocratic leader of 23 years, was forced to flee abroad Friday after weeks of violent protests, in which at least 66 people were killed, mostly unarmed demonstrators shot dead by police.

France's Le Monde daily reported Monday that his wife, Leila, had collected 1.5 tonnes of gold from the central bank before leaving.

Leila Ben Ali visited the bank in Tunis and is thought to have taken gold bars worth some 60 million dollars along when departing on a plane bound for Dubai, according to the report.

The president's wife is a member of the powerful Trabelsi clan, which controls much of Tunisia's wealth and became a symbol of the kleptocracy that riddled the country of 10 million.

The looting, arson and anarchy that erupted after Ben Ali left began to subside Monday.

The army blames Ben Ali's presidential guard for trying to stoke unrest. On Sunday, sporadic street firefights between the army and alleged presidential guard members took place in Tunis.

Meanwhile, most of the thousands of French and German tourists who had been holidaying in Tunisia's beach resorts when the uprising intensified last week had been evacuated by Monday.

Germany's foreign ministry said 6,000 German holiday-makers had been repatriated and that the several hundred Germans who remained were either residents of people who had opted to remain.

France's association of tour operators said all remaining French holiday-makers in Tunisia should be back in France by Monday night.

One Swedish tour operator, Apollo Resor, announced Monday it had cancelled its trips to Tunisia until May, due to the unrest.






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