Tunisians protest over PM's plans


Protestors embrace soldiers during a demonstration against former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the centre of Tunis (AP)

Riot police had to fire tear gas at angry protesters in Tunisia’s capital as the country’s prime minister defended including some of the deeply unpopular old regime in a new unity government.

The capital Tunis awoke to bustling, everyday life on Tuesday for the first time since its president, Zine al-Abidine
Ben Ali, fled the country last week following weeks of protests and unrest.

But the peace was shattered as police lobbed tear gas to scatter about 200 protesters who were marching towards the Interior Ministry.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi claimed that his announcement on Monday to include ministers from the former president’s old guard in a new unity government was a necessary step “because we need them in this phase”.

He said Tunisia had entered “an era of liberty” and asked for Tunisians to “Give us a chance so that we can put in place this ambitious programme of reform”.

He insisted the ministers chosen would “have clean hands, in addition to great competence,” suggesting that experienced officials are needed along with opposition leaders in an interim government to guide the country before free elections are held in the coming months.

Mr Ghannouchi pledged to free political prisoners and lift restrictions on a leading human rights group, the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights.

He said the government would create three state commissions to study political reform, investigate corruption and bribery and examine abuses during the recent upheaval.

President Ben Ali’s departure follows weeks of protest by Tunisians over state repression, corruption and a shortage of jobs. Around 80 people have died in the unrest.

The protests began last month after an educated but unemployed 26-year-old man set himself on fire when police confiscated the fruit and vegetables he was selling without a permit.

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