Tunisia calls for Ben Ali's arrest


Wounded protesters are evacuated after clashes in front of the prime minister's office in Tunis (AP)

Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for its exiled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month amid violent protests.

Charges against Ben Ali include taking money out of the country illegally and there have also been calls for his wife Leila to be arrested.

Ben Ali fled on January 14 after 23 years in power, pushed out by weeks of deadly protests driven by anger over joblessness, corruption and repression.

During the unrest more than 11,000 prisoners – about a third of the country’s prison population – were able to escape amid the chaos.

Meanwhile, police in Tunis fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who have been pressuring the interim government to get rid of old-guard ministers who served under Ben Ali.

Clashes broke out once more in front of the prime minister’s office and, as clouds of tear gas engulfed hundreds of people, some demonstrators responded by throwing stones at police.

The caretaker government includes some former opposition leaders, but many top posts – including prime minister and the ministers of defence, foreign affairs and the interior – were retained by the old guard.

Prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took the post in 1999 under Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has vowed to quit politics after elections in the coming months.

But he has insisted that he needs to stay on for now to guide Tunisia through a transition to democracy.

Tunisia’s so-called Jasmine Revolution has sparked scattered protests and civil disobedience in the Middle East and North Africa.

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