Friday 24 March 2017

Politicians vow to restore calm

Dictator's wife fled with 1.5 tonnes of bank's gold

Kim Sengupta in Tunis

A new government formed in Tunisia yesterday pledged the most wide-ranging reforms in the country's history in an attempt to end anti-government violence across the country that brought down the president.

Opposition politicians will join the government, parties banned under president Ben Ali will be allowed to operate, and repressive laws of the past will be swept away, said the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who will lead the administration.

Despite formation of the "national unity" coalition, three days after the authoritarian ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had fled into exile, there were fresh clashes in the streets with protesters refusing to accept members of the previous regime remaining in power.

It was reported yesterday that Mr Ben Ali's wife, Leila Trabelsi, withdrew 1.5 tonnes of gold from the country's central bank reserves before fleeing with her husband.

Yesterday, police fired live rounds, tear gas and used water cannons to break up a demonstration by around 1,000 people insisting that the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), Mr Ben Ali's party, should be banned from holding office.

The demonstrators warned that their campaign will continue, chanting: "We may die, but the Republic will live."

Significantly, many of those on the rallies yesterday were older and from professional backgrounds. Tuoufi Tawil, a mergers and acquisitions manager, said: "We now have the Third Republic and its principles are freedom, democracy and tolerance. The RCD has shown that it does not believe in any of these."

Some opposition political leaders also condemned the formation of the new government which will stay in charge until fresh elections are held in 60 days' time.

Moncef Marzouki, of the centre-left Congress for the Republic, currently in exile in Paris, has announced that he will be a presidential candidate.

But he said yesterday: "The new government is a farce. The three opposition parties have already functioned under the Ben Ali system."

Mr Ben Ali's appointees will stay in other major ministries, including defence, foreign and finance. However, Najib Chebbi, founder of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party, will become the Minister for Regional Development. Two other senior opposition members will also get the posts of higher education and health.

Abolished

Sidi Amamou, a blogger with a strong youth following, is expected to lead a revamped youth and sport department. The Ministry of Information, which had been in charge of censoring the media, will be abolished.

Mr Ghannouchi maintained that all efforts were being made to reflect diverse views in the new government and allow debate in the community.

"We are committed to intensifying our efforts to re-establish calm and peace. Our priority is security, as well as political and economic reform," he said. "We have decided to free all the people imprisoned for their ideas, their beliefs or for having expressed dissenting opinions."

"We're pleased -- but we're also scared," said Tem Tem Ridha, a 23-year-old writer. "There is in Tunisia now a great feeling of hope, a feeling of fear and of shock. People are pleased but they are also fearful.

"I would say that the mood in Tunis today is a mood of exhilaration, of hope." (©Independent News Service)

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