Prime minister names unity govt to quell Tunisia unrest
Tunisia’s prime minister has appointed a new unity government, but his decision to retain many ministers from the old guard may upset ordinary people, whose four weeks of protests forced the president to flee.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who brought opposition leaders as well as key ‘old guard’ ministers into the coalition, promised to release all political prisoners and to investigate those suspected of corruption.
Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa told state television at least 78 people had been killed in the unrest, and the cost so far in damage and lost business was $2-billion.
The wave of protests against unemployment, repression and graft that unseated President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has hit stock and currency markets from Jordan to Morocco as investors wondered whether the Tunisian unrest would spread abroad.
The prime minister said the ministers of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs under Ben Ali would keep their jobs in the new government.
Among opposition figures, Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), was named minister of regional development, Ettajdid party leader Ahmed Ibrahim higher education minister and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, health minister.
“We are committed to intensifying our efforts to re-establish calm and peace in the hearts of all Tunisians. Our priority is security, as well as political and economic reform,” Ghannouchi told a news conference.
About 1 000 people demonstrated in the capital Tunis on Monday, some saying they would not accept members of the ruling RCD party, prominent in the new coalition, because they would block needed reforms.
Security forces used water cannon and teargas and fired shots in the air to disperse the protesters.
Ordinary Tunisians in the capital were sceptical about the new coalition’s promises of reform.
“We do not trust this government because there are the same faces, like Ghannouchi ... and particularly Friaa,” said passerby Mohamed Mishrgi.
“It’s as if Ben Ali’s system is still there. It’s for that reason that the demonstrations are continuing in Tunis. We want a new state with new people.” A British minister also called for more reforms and greater political freedom in Tunisia.
The changes in Tunisia are “not yet the political reform that many people in that country hope for”, Foreign Office minister David Lidington told Parliament, calling for “an orderly move towards free and fair elections”.
In Washington, the White House said it welcomed the reforms announced by Ghannouchi, along with the commitment to probe corruption, promote free media and free political prisoners.
“We expect the Tunisian government to ... follow through on these stated reforms and hold free and fair elections in order to fulfill the aspirations of the Tunisian people,” White House spokesperson Tommy Vietor said.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after weeks of street unrest. His sudden departure sent shockwaves through the Arab world, where autocratic leaders preside over similarly repressive governments.—Reuters