/ 19 January 2011

Struggling Tunisia unity Cabinet to meet

Struggling Tunisia Unity Cabinet To Meet

Tunisia’s caretaker prime minister aims to gather his national unity Cabinet for a first meeting on Wednesday, but he already faces revolt from opposition nominees demanding he fire more of the ousted strongman’s allies.

Within a day of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi appointing several opponents of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, four of them quit his new government, saying street protesters who triggered the upheaval were disappointed at how many of the old guard, including Ghannouchi himself, were still in power.

Abid al-Briki of the UGTT trade union, whose three ministerial nominees all resigned, said it still wanted to see all ministers from Ben Ali’s old team cleared out, though it would make an exception for Ghannouchi. “This is in response to the demands of people on the streets,” Briki said.

Trying to defuse the row, Ghannouchi and caretaker president Fouad Mebazza quit the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) — until this week the party vehicle for Ben Ali’s strongman rule.

One of the rebel new ministers, Mustafa Ben Jaafar, indicated that move might be enough to tempt him back.

Ministers needed ahead of poll
But the UGTT responded that, while their ditching of old party cards was positive, it was not sufficient. Ghannouchi said some ministers were kept on because they were needed in the run-up to elections, expected in the next two months.

The government says at least 78 people were killed in the unrest, and the cost in damage and lost business was $2-billion. But unrest in the streets was fading by Tuesday.

The weeks of protests over poverty and unemployment which forced Ben Ali out prompted speculation across the Arab world that other repressive governments might also face unrest.

In Syria, opponents of President Bashar al-Assad said that the overthrow of dictatorship in Tunisia had fatally undermined assertions by Arab governments that their repression is the only alternative to either chaos or extreme Islamist rule.

“The uprising of the Tunisian people has proved that peaceful democratic change is possible, and that the line these dictatorial regimes peddle about chaos or fundamentalism does not wash,” an opposition group, the Damascus Declaration, said in a statement, which was sent to Reuters.

“The Tunisian uprising is an opportunity to break the barrier of fear overwhelming the peoples under repression,” the group said. “The Syrian people deserve freedom just like Tunis. We are confident they’ll march on the road to freedom and democracy.” – Reuters