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Tunisian dictator’s family ‘not welcome’ in Canada: PM
Agadir (Morocco)/ TUNIS, Jan 28 (Agencies):
Published on 29 Jan. 2011 12:01 AM IST
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Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Thursday waded into the politically charged debate over unrest in Africa, saying members of the deposed regime in Tunisia are “not welcome” in Canada and that he supports calls for “democratic development” in Egypt.
Harper made the comments after a meeting with Moroccan Prime Minister Abbas El Fassi, where the two discussed the recent wave of unrest hitting nations in North Africa. The prime minister, who spoke cautiously about the issue on the eve of his arrival here, was much more forceful on Thursday.
Harper made it clear that his government applauds the recent revolt in Tunisia that led to the exile of its former dictator, president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
“Canada supports the transition in Tunisia,” he told a news conference.
“We support the democratic development that is taking place there and obviously want to see that proceed positively.”
Moreover, he did not shy away from saying -- in the wake of reports that Belhassen Trabelsi, the billionaire brother-in-law of the deposed dictator, is now in Montreal -- that the government frowns on this development. The Tunisian is reportedly in Montreal with his wife, four children, and a nanny.
“Canada will use all tools at its disposal to co-operate with the international community in dealing with members of the former regime,” Harper said. “They are not welcome -- let me be very clear. We do not welcome them in our country.”
Tunisia has asked the international police organization Interpol to help arrest ousted president Ben Ali and members of his family who fled the country amid the revolt by citizens.
The RCMP on Thursday reiterated that Interpol’s call to locate members of the family “does not constitute an arrest warrant under Canadian law.”
Tunisia PM sacks top Ben Ali allies
Tunisia’s prime minister axed top allies of fallen president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, including the defence and interior ministers, but failed to silence calls on Friday for his own resignation. There were none of the usual chants and slogans among the hundreds of anti-government protesters who have camped out in front of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi’s offices in Tunis since Sunday.
However there was also no sign that they were packing up just yet, and there were continuing calls for Ghannouchi to fall on his sword as well. “The majority want to continue to bring down Ghannouchi. The whole government has to go, especially Ghannouchi,” said Khaled Salhi, a 22-year-old student who called Thursday night’s cabinet reshuffle just “playing for time.”
Tunisian newspapers were generally positive about the government changes, with a headline in Le Quotidien daily reading: “Deliverance, At Last”. But the more ambiguous headline in Le Temps said: “The Appeasement?” hinted at the degree of scepticism still remaining.
Ghannouchi on Thursday said he was staying on but replaced five ministers from Ben Ali’s last government whose control of key posts had been decried by protesters. Three former allies of Ben Ali including Ghannouchi himself remain. “This is a temporary government with a clear mission -- to allow a transition to democracy,” Ghannouchi said in an address on state television in which he pleaded for Tunisians to end protests and return to work.
Kamel Morjane, who announced his resignation shortly before the reshuffle was announced, was replaced as foreign minister by Ahmed Ounais -- a Paris-educated career diplomat and former ambassador to Moscow and New Delhi. Farhat Rajhi, a former chief prosecutor, was appointed as interior minister and Abdelkarim Zebidi, a medical professor, took over defence.
Tunisia’s main trade union, the UGTT, which played a key role in anti-Ben Ali protests and had refused to recognise the interim cabinet, said it now approved of Ghannouchi staying in power. Tunisia experts offered mixed reactions to the reshuffle.
“These were stalwarts in the old regime. It’s not going to wash. The street won’t like it,” said George Joffe, a research fellow at Cambridge University.
Mokhtar Boubakar, a university lecturer in Tunis, said: “It’s a step forward. We have chased away the most symbolic RCD ministers” -- a reference to Ben Ali’s still-potent Constitutional Democratic Rally party.
Ghannouchi, who resigned from the RCD last week in an attempt to quell public anger, has served as prime minister since 1999 and has said he will resign only after the country holds its first democratic elections.
He says the vote could be held within six months but has not given a date.
The government has unveiled unprecedented democratic freedoms but has struggled to restore order in recent days as the 23-year authoritarian regime crumbles, although most schools and businesses have now re-opened.
Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the popular Ennahdha (Awakening) Islamist movement, meanwhile prepared to return to Tunisia on Sunday after more than 20 years of forced exile, a spokesman for the movement in Paris told AFP.
The Islamist still officially has a life sentence hanging over him but in practice convicted political exiles have returned freely in recent days.
He founded Ennahdha in 1981 and says it is now a moderate force similar to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) that will take part in elections.
The ripples of the Arab world’s first popular revolt in recent history have been felt across the region, where difficult social and economic conditions have created widespread popular discontent against long-established regimes.
Tunisia’s government has lifted strict controls on the media, released political prisoners and legalised previously banned political parties.
It has also frozen Ben Ali’s assets and issued international arrest warrants for the ex-ruler and six members of his once all-powerful extended family.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 and other relatives have scattered around the world, although 33 of them are under arrest in Tunisia.

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