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Tunisian Revolution Continues, New Government Prepares for Elections

January 17, 2011

Editor's Note:

The Tunisian revolution continues against the dictatorial and despotic regime of Bin Ali and his Constitutional Party. Tunisians are still calling for the sacking of the acting president and the prime minister, who are remainants of the falling regime.

Other Arab dictatorial regimes are taking notice and many signs of revolts against them have been emerging.

Old guard keeps key posts in Tunisian unity government

Tunisian PM Mohamed Ghannouchi (pictured) announced a new national unity government Monday, which included opposition members. But the defence, interior and foreign ministers under former strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali retained their posts.

By Olivia SALAZAR WINSPEAR (video) FRANCE 24 (text)  

Tunisia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced a new unity government, which includes established political figures as well as opposition members, on Monday in a bid to bring back political stability following the ouster of Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Key figures in Tunisian politics

At a press conference in the Tunisian capital of Tunis, Ghannouchi announced that the foreign, interior and defence ministers under Ben Ali would retain their jobs.

But in an attempt to involve the country’s long sidelined opposition parties, the leaders of Tunisia’s three leading opposition parties have become part of the new government.

Najib Chebbi, a prominent opposition figure and founder of the PDP (Progressive Democratic Party), was appointed minister of regional development.

Ahmed Ibrahim, a trade unionist and leader of the Ettajdid party, was named minister of higher education, while Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the FTDL (Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties), was appointed minister of health.

The former speaker of parliament, Foued Mebazaa, will continue in the role of interim president.

While the country’s constitution states that presidential and parliamentary elections should be held within two months, Chebbi told FRANCE 24 that the new coalition is set to remain in place for the next six months.

“A period of six months was agreed upon so that constitutional and legislative reforms could be carried out, to pave the way for a neutral election, with a neutral electoral committee and international observers,” said Chebbi, in an interview with FRANCE 24 shortly before the new government was announced.

Official death toll mounts to 78

The formation of a new government was seen as a critical step toward establishing order and filling a dangerous power vacuum in the North African nation following Ben Ali’s ouster last week.

Speaking to reporters shortly after he was reinstated as interior minister, Ahmed Friaa said at least 78 people had been killed since the start of the unrest. The figure was significantly higher than the last official death toll of 21 issued before Ben Ali fled for Saudi Arabia last week.

Friaa also estimated that the economic cost so far in damaged property and lost business was 3 billion dinars ($2 billion).

In an attempt to introduce what he called “total freedom” for the press, Ghannouchi announced that he was scrapping the ministry for information, an ubiquitous feature in several Arab nations and the bane of many domestic and international reporters.

Ghannouchi also declared that all political parties would be allowed to operate and that political prisoners would be freed. He also promised that “anyone with great wealth or suspected of corruption” would face an investigation.


france24_en Plenty of discussion on Avenue Bourghiba as people wait to know the make-up of the transitional government. #entunisF24 about 17 hours ago france24_en Calm in Bab Khadra, Tunis. People trying to buy bread and wondering what the future holds. #entunisF24 about 1 days ago france24_en Night-time curfew over. Hundreds looking for a way out of Tunis airport. #entunisF24 about 1 days ago france24_en A night at Tunis airport for Congolese students, Romanian workers and French journalists. Curfew. No transport. #entunisF24 about 2 days ago

A veteran politician who has served as prime minister since 1999, Ghannouchi is widely regarded as a close associate of Ben Ali and the architect of the former Tunisian president’s economic policies.

‘Ben Ali regime without Ben Ali’

The retention of the key defense, interior and foreign affairs portfolios has been slammed by some opposition figures.

“We do not recognise the national unity government,” said Hamma Hammami, head of the banned Communist Workers Party, in an interview with FRANCE 24 shortly before the new government was announced. “It will be a continuation of the Ben Ali regime without Ben Ali, just with more democratic trimmings".

“This is not a coup changeover,” explained FRANCE 24 International Affairs Editor, Armen Georgian. “The key interior, foreign and defence ministers have been retained. Most of all, this is being overseen by a prime minister who was Ben Ali’s man, the architect of Tunisia’s economic policies which have now been rejected by the Tunisian people.”

According to Georgian, Chebbi’s appointment as minister of regional development is an attempt to address Tunisia’s disparities of income, which have split the country between the impoverished south and the coastal northern regions popular with tourists. “It’s hugely important in Tunisia because of the problem of internal immigration, which is people fleeing the lack of opportunities and going to the coastal areas for jobs,” said Georgian. “But it’s important to reiterate that this is still a transitional government that will have to pave the way for national elections.”


TUNISIA Clashes erupt in Tunisia amid government unity talks

TUNISIA 'Tunisia will be a spark that provokes similar revolts'

TUNISIA Profile: Ben Ali, president-for-life no more


Clashes erupt in Tunisia amid government unity talks

Tunisian special forces exchanged heavy gunfire with members of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s security guard on Sunday as the country's interim leadership prepared to unveil a new unity government on Monday.

By Christopher MOORE special correspondent in Tunis (video) FRANCE 24 (text)  

A fierce gun battle broke out Sunday, between Tunisian special forces and members of  security forces loyal to deposed President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a military official said.

The clashes near the presidential palace in the seaside suburb of Carthage came hours after Ben Ali's security chief, General Ali Seriati, was arrested along with several colleagues over accusations of plotting attacks against the country's new interim leadership.


france24_en Plenty of discussion on Avenue Bourghiba as people wait to know the make-up of the transitional government. #entunisF24 about 17 hours ago france24_en Calm in Bab Khadra, Tunis. People trying to buy bread and wondering what the future holds. #entunisF24 about 1 days ago france24_en Night-time curfew over. Hundreds looking for a way out of Tunis airport. #entunisF24 about 1 days ago france24_en A night at Tunis airport for Congolese students, Romanian workers and French journalists. Curfew. No transport. #entunisF24 about 2 days ago

Seriati, a key figure in the security apparatus put in place by the authoritarian Ben Ali, is accused of plotting against the government and fomenting armed attacks, according to Tunisia's state media.   The weekend was punctuated by incidents of violence, including looting and arson, after Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia late Friday. There were several reports of roaming gunmen firing randomly at buildings in and around the city.   Earlier, Tunisian state television reported two other gun battles had broken a relative calm enforced by the army in the country's capital of Tunis, one near the central bank building and another outside an opposition party's headquarters.

A Paris-based photojournalist, Lucas Mebrouk Dolega, who works for EPA photo agency, was in critical condition Sunday after being hit Friday in the face by a tear gas canister, according to a French consular official in Tunisia.

“All across the country residents were arming themselves with clubs, sticks and knives to defend their neighbourhoods”, reported Cyril Vanier, France 24’s special correspondent in Tunis. "This has been encouraged by Prime Minister [Mohamed] Ghannouchi and by the police. They cannot cover the entire territory and need people to do some policing on their own”   Moving toward a unity government?   Unrest and tension continued in Tunis as political leaders scrambled to carve out a unity government to fill in the power vacuum created by former President Ben Ali’s abrupt departure following weeks of deadly protests.   Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who held talks with opposition leaders on Sunday, said in a statement that a new government would be unveiled on Monday.

Tunisian opposition leaders including Najib Chebbi, founder of the opposition party PDP and Mustafa Ben Jaafar from the Union of Freedom and Labour will be part of the new coalition, sources close to talks told Reuters news agency.

Parliamentary Speaker Foued Mebazaa was sworn in as interim president on Saturday, becoming Tunisia’s third president in less than 48 hours. The constitutional council, Tunisia’s top court, announced that new elections were to be held within 60 days.  

France 24's Christopher Moore reports from Tunis, Tunisia By Christopher MOORE

Ghannouchi has been given the task of forming the country’s first coalition government. “The Prime Minister had been talking to representatives from all of Tunisia’s civil society, that is authorized opposition party members, the lawyers, human rights leaders, unionists. And today they are supposed to announce the formation of a new unity government”, Vanier said.   The Tunisian Workers’ Communist Party (PCOT) and the Islamist Ennahda Party, both outlawed by Ben Ali, were not included in the meetings.   The political gestures pointed toward the potential for real reconciliation in a country dominated by authoritarian rule for more than two decades. But amid the violence, uncertainty remained over how authority structures linked to Ben Ali would function with opposition and civil society groups.   “It does seem there is a change”, said Vanier “We’re going to have to wait and see if the opposition leaders are really given a chance to take part in the governing of their country for the first time in history".

TUNISIA Deposed president's security chief arrested for incitement

TUNISIA Violence continues as Tunisia mulls new unity government

TUNISIA Profile: Ben Ali, president-for-life no more


'Tunisia will be a spark that provokes similar revolts' How will the abrupt fall of Tunisian leader Ben Ali affect other countries in the region? Renowned Sorbonne scholar Burhan Ghalioun told that many Arab countries are ripe for such a revolt. By FRANCE 24 (text)  

The tightly controlled and at times brutally repressive government of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali was toppled by a popular uprising this week.

On January 6th, Sorbonne scholar Burhan Ghalioun predicted Ben Ali's government would no longer be able to contain the pressure from the street protests and would fall. spoke to him to find out if any other authoritarian regimes in the region were now condemned to fail.

By FRANCE 24 We communicated a message to the Arab world, and they know all they need is a Facebook account, a Twitter account and a cell phone to overthrow their government. Youssef Gaigi, Tunisian blogger and activist

France 24: Can we expect similar revolts in neighbouring counties as a result of the events in Tunisia?

Burhan Ghalioun: We should not consider contagion as something mechanical. There will certainly be a change in the ideas and feelings of the Arab population in neighbouring countries, specifically for those who live under similar regimes. The political context has already changed because of this revolution. The leaders of the Arab states are reviewing their positions. In just a few days we have witnessed a rise in salaries and concern over unemployment. This is to show they care about the people, and it’s the people who were the source of Ben Ali’s downfall. It’s not going to happen all of a sudden. I believe the events in Tunisia will be a spark that will provoke perhaps similar revolts or unrest in Arab countries that have similar problems.

F24: Can you point to any countries in particular?

BG: I think Egypt is ready for an uprising, but I don’t know exactly how it will come about. I don’t think it will be identical, Egypt is different. I don’t see why something similar couldn’t happen in Libya: A super-rich country where the population is unhappy and lives close to extreme poverty. A revolt could happen in several different countries, but what is important to highlight today is that for 20 years, under the guise of a campaign against terrorism, Tunisia’s government concealed a problem that has now exploded before the eyes of the entire world.

F24: What are the potential risks during the power vacuum Tunisia is experiencing?

BG: There are groups that have lost out, who benefitted from Ben Ali’s system and are now trying to abort this revolution by setting fire to public buildings, and doing whatever is still within their power to indicate that the situation on the ground is the result of anarchy and disorder. The first danger comes from these reactionary forces inside the country. The second comes from the Western powers, who worry that a government who will not bend to their will take shape. I’m talking especially about European powers. But the US will also react if the Middle East is affected. They are all scared of governments that are really representative of the people.

There are also extremist forces like al Qaeda to be concerned with. They think that a successful democratic system will stop the spreading of their influence. It is clear therefore, that there are a lot of forces that need to be monitored during this period of transition. The only thing won during the unrest was the destruction of a bankrupt system, but everything still remains to be done to create a democratic system.

Professor Burhan Ghalioun is a writer and currently heads the Centre for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

TUNISIA Profile: Ben Ali, president-for-life no more

TUNISIA Prison blaze kills dozens after botched escape attempt

TUNISIA France faces criticism over soft touch with Tunisia


Tunisian PM announces new government

TUNIS, Jan. 17, 2011 (Xinhua) --

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi on Monday announced the formation of a national unity government after former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted last week.

Ghannouchi said the new government is composed of 21 ministers, including six former ministers, members of the opposition and independents.

Two leading opposition figures, the founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) Nejib Chebbi and Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who is from the Democratic Forum for Work and Liberties, would hold cabinet posts, said the prime minister.

Six former top ministers, including interior, defense and foreign ministers, retained their posts in the new government, said Ghannouchi, adding the communication ministry would not exist and will be replaced by a specialized commission.

Ghannouchi also announced that the restrictions on the Tunisian League of Human Rights and on the Tunisian Association of Magistrates would be lifted.

All political parties and nongovernmental associations will also be recognized and will be able to operate in all freedom, he added.

Ghannouchi also announced the establishment of three commissions that are in charge of political reforms, monitoring unlawful acts and fighting against corruption, adding that all political prisoners will be freed.

"We will work towards fair and transparent elections monitored by international observers," said Ghannouchi, who also confirmed that the government will allow freedom of speech.

Former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled the north African country for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia, as the riots developed into a political crisis and raised serious concern from both the Arab world and the international community.

The turmoil in the country, known as "peaceful oasis" in north Africa, was triggered by the death of a university graduate in central Tunisia, who burned himself after the police confiscated his unlicensed fruit cart.

78 killed, 94 injured in Tunisian violence

TUNIS, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) --

Weeks of violent protests in Tunisia have killed 78 people, including members of the security forces, and injured 94 others, Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa said Monday on Tunisian state TV.

Earlier, the government had put the death toll at 23 as of Saturday, while oppositions said three times more people died in the riots.

Friaa, at a press conference, urged the security forces to protect the safety of people and called on Tunisians from all walks of life to safeguard their motherland.

According to Friaa, in several incidents armed men shoot randomly at people from cars without licensed plate. He demanded those gunman to lay down their arms and stop terrorizing civilians, or they would be punished by law.

Friaa, in the riot-ravaged capital Tunis, urged people to help maintain the stability of the country, stay away from violence and refrain from participating in any riot.

Referring to the security forces who manned the capital, the minister said "I appreciate all those who support the security forces to perform their duty, meanwhile, anyone from the security forces, who breaks the law, will be punished."

Tunis, capital of the North African country, still witnesses sporadic looting and protests on Monday, after former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was swept from power last Friday in a climax to weeks of protests against souring prices, unemployment and corruption.

Full-armed security forces and soldiers patrolled the capital now and then, while tanks and armored cars can be seen at the corners of the quiet streets with few pedestrians.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Tunisian opposition party refuses to take part in unity government

TUNIS, Jan. 17 (Xinhua) --

The Democratic Unionist Union (UDU), one of Tunisia's opposition parties, refused on Monday to take part in the country's new government.

The new government does not "enable the participation of all forces and it doesn't meet the objectives of the popular revolution," said a communique released by UDU's political bureau on Monday.

UDU said it "hails the revolution of the valiant Tunisian people," calling on all political forces to build the future of the country.

Hours earlier, Tunisian prime minister announced the composition of the country's first caretaker government, more than two thirds of which is composed of independent candidates and members of the opposition parties.

On Monday morning, hundreds of protestors demonstrated in the capital against the inclusion of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) in the unity government. Police dispersed the demonstrators with water canons and tear gas.

According to Tunisian constitution, elections are to be held within 60 days after the formation of the national unity government. However, Tunisian prime minister said in a statement that it will take six months to organize the elections.

Editor: Mu Xuequan

Tunisia's ex-interior minister arrested: TV

TUNIS, Jan. 16 (Xinhua) --

Former Tunisian Interior Minister Rafiq Belhaj Kacem was arrested on Sunday, Doha-based al-Jazerra TV reported.

Kacem, who has been sacked by deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in early December in an attempt to quell the protests, was captured in his hometown of Beja, about 110 km west of the capital Tunis.

The head of presidential guard and 50 others were arrested by the army, which were heavily deployed in the streets to restore order to Tunisia after the breakout of violence and social unrest and the toppling of Ben Ali.

The official news agency TAP said head of presidential guard Ali Seriati and a number of his colleagues have been arrested over accusations of fomenting the recent wave of violence and unrest in Tunisia.

"An investigation has been launched against the head of the presidential guard and a group of his accomplices for plotting against the security of the state," the agency said.

It said they were also accused of instigating a string of killing, unrest and looting sprees in "the Tunisian soil and therefore a judge issued arrest warrants against them.

Tunisian acting president asks PM to form new gov't: TV

TUNIS, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) --

Tunisia's acting president Foued Mebazaa, the former speaker of the parliament, said he has asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to form a coalition government, Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV reported.

In a televised speech, Mebazaa said the ultimate national interest requires the formation of a national unity government.

The move is seen as an attempt to save the government from a political mishap, as president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted Saturday and fled to Saudi Arabia after riots hit the country.

Mebazaa's call for a national unity government won support from Tunisian opposition leaders who said there is an imminence need for setting up a unity salvation government to end unrest that gripped the country.

The Tunisian government has declared a state of emergency, banning any gathering involving more than three people.

"We appeal to all political factions to work on forming an all- out, urgent and national government," a senior member of the Unionist Democratic Union (UDU) told the TV.

Premier Ghannouchi has told Al-Jazerra TV that exited opposition figures are welcome to return to Tunisia.

"All political opposition figures, who live in exile, can return to homeland without any fears of harassment or legal charges," he said.

This came as Saudi Arabia said deposed president Ben Ali is now in the kingdom, saying he and his family are welcome in the country and this move was taken due to "exceptional circumstances hit Tunisia".

But a leading Saudi journalist said Ben Ali will not be allowed to do any political role in Saudi Arabia, adding the kingdom stands behind the Tunisians.

Ben Ali will be in Saudi Arabia as "a political refugee" not "a head of state", Jamal Khashoggi told the Dubai-based TV.

"Saudi Arabia will not sanction the ousted president to give political statements, do any political activities nor make contacts to arrange his situation back home," he said.

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