Tunisian PM: New government to be announced Monday

Clinton calls for new gov't to allow "credible democratic elections;" gunfights erupt across capital, near main opposition party building.

By JPOST.COM STAFF, ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 16, 2011 21:33
3 minute read.
Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

Tunisia plans to announce a new government on Monday, Reuters reported.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi reportedly said on state television that he will "announce the new government which will open a new page in the history of Tunisia."

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US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday urged Tunisia's new leadership to restore order and adopt broad economic and political reforms in the wake of the popular revolt that overthrew the North African nation's authoritarian president.

In a telephone call to Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamal Merjan, Clinton offered US support for Tunisia as it transitions from the autocratic rule of ex-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Clinton called for the government to address the underlying causes of the popular discontent that fueled the uprising, such as unemployment and poverty.

"She urged that the government work to re-establish order in the country in a responsible manner as quickly as possible," the State Department said in a statement released as looting and violence continued to rock Tunisia in the aftermath of Ben Ali's ouster on Friday. "She also underscored the importance of addressing popular concerns about the lack of civil liberties and economic opportunities, and the need to move forward with credible democratic elections."

Clinton said she was encouraged by remarks by Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and interim President Fouad Mebazaa "indicating a willingness to work with Tunisians across the political spectrum and within civil society to build a truly representative government."

Tunisian authorities struggled to restore order Sunday, arresting the top presidential security chief and trying to stop gunfights that erupted across the capital. One clash broke out near Tunisia's main opposition party building, another by the dreaded Interior Ministry.

Observers worldwide were looking to see which way the North African nation would turn as its new leadership sought to tamp down the looting, arson and random violence that has taken place since autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday. The nation was in the midst of an unprecedented power shift for the Arab world.

Tensions appeared to be mounting between Tunisians buoyant over Ben Ali's departure and loyalists in danger of losing major perks. Tunisian police made dozens of arrests, some for drive-by shooting attacks at buildings and people in the capital, Tunis.

The security chief Ali Seriati and his deputy were charged with a plot against state security, aggressive acts and for "provoking disorder, murder and pillaging," the TAP state news agency reported.

To cheers and smiles, some residents of Tunis tore down massive portraits of Ben Ali that were omnipresent during his reign, hanging on lampposts and billboards, gazing down over shops and hotels. Some stretched several stories high.

Police stopped vehicles as the city remained under a state of emergency. More than 50 people were arrested on suspicion of using ambulances, rental cars and government vehicles for random shootings, a police official told The Associated Press. A crowd of 200 in Tunis cheered one such arrest Sunday.

A few gas stations and stores reopened Sunday morning, and calm returned in some residential areas.

But a gunfight broke out in the afternoon between security forces and unidentified attackers in front of the main opposition party PDP's headquarters, said party member Issam Chebbi. A large crowd swarmed the area in central Tunis after the incident and heavy security was deployed.

Soon after the clash, repeated volleys of gunfire were heard close by near the Interior Ministry, once feared as a torture site. The battle was the fiercest clash yet this weekend.

Before the gunbattle at PDP, police stopped, tackled and arrested a group of men in a taxi in front of the party headquarters, according to a video obtained by the AP. Four people were arrested, two Tunisians and two foreigners, Chebbi said. A rifle was seen in the vehicle.

It was unclear if the arrests, the gunbattle at the PDP and the gunbattle near the Interior Ministry were linked.

Dozens of people have died in a month of clashes between police and protesters angry about the repression and corruption under Ben Ali — unrest that ended his 23-year regime.

The interim president, former parliament speaker Fouad Mebazaa, has told the prime minister to create a national unity government and urged him to consult with the opposition, who were marginalized under Ben Ali. Presidential elections must be held in 60 days.


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