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Protests hit Tunisia amid mourning
Tunis, Jan 21 (agencies):
Published on 21 Jan. 2011 11:12 PM IST
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Thousands of Tunisians have gathered in front of the country’s interior ministry, demanding the dissolution of the new interim government that assumed power after longstanding ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on December 14.
Protesters marched down the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis, the capital, on Friday morning, chanting anti-government slogans, Al Jazeera’s Yasmine Ryan reported.
Police blocked the protesters at the interior ministry and prepared water cannons to disperse them, but there has been no violence, she reported. Many Tunisians are angry that several prominent members of Ben Ali’s regime have been included in the new government.
The protest comes on the first day of a three-day period of national mourning for those who died during the month-long uprising that overthrew Ben Ali. The mourning is meant to honour the dozens of people who died during widespread protests and confrontations with security forces who used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds. Flags in the country have been set at half mast.
According to the United Nations, about 100 people died during the upheaval that swept across the North African country. Protests in Tunisia have continued even after Ben Ali fled the country and a new interim government offered major concessions.
On Thursday, during its first session, Tunisia’s transitional cabinet decided to recognise all banned political parties and agreed on a general amnesty for all political prisoners. “The minister of justice presented a bill for a general amnesty, which was adopted by the cabinet, which decided to submit it to parliament,” Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the development minister, said.
Asked if the government had decided to lift bans on political groups, including the Islamist al-Nahda movement, Mohamed Aloulou, the youth minister, said: “We will recognise all the political movements.”
Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the exiled head of al-Nahda, told Al Jazeera earlier this week that he plans to return to Tunisia. However, the prime minister said he would only be able to do so once the amnesty law is passed because he carries a life sentence for plots against the state.
Tayyib Al Bakouchi, the government spokesman, said the multiparty government pledged to make security its top priority, to prepare for new presidential elections and speed up political reforms.
The ministers also vowed to restore goods and real estate appropriated by the ruling party under Ben Ali, who fled into exile in Saudi Arabia last Friday.
The government said 1,800 political prisoners have already been freed this week. However, Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the capital, Tunis, said it was difficult to know how many detainees there had been in the first place. “We’ve heard earlier in the day that some Islamist ones belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, being kept under Tunisian anti-terror laws, may not have been freed yet.”
All ministers of the cabinet were present in Thursday’s meeting except five who resigned earlier this week, refusing to sit in a unity government with members of the former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).
Before the cabinet convened, all of the eight ministers in the new government who had been members of RCD quit the party, without giving up their cabinet posts.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the RCD headquarters in Tunis on Thursday, demanding that ministers associated with the rule of Ben Ali leave the government.
Using a large steel cable, a government employee tore off the Arabic letters of the party’s name from the facade.
Amid shouts protesting against the transitional government, the crowd brandished signs reading: “We are no longer afraid of you, traitors,” and “RCD out!”

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