Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Protests Continue In Tunisia

The entire political system put in place by now exiled leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali remains, and the opposition insists on clearing away the entire existing political structure. They are continuing to demonstrate and protest the government, which is still comprised of many allied to Ben Ali.

Tunisians are protesting the new premier, and the protests don't show any sign of abating, despite security forces continuing to use tear gas.
The demonstrators marched down the capital’s central Avenue Bourguiba, chanting slogans against the prime minister and seeking to reinforce pressure on the tottering new administration that has pledged to lead the country to elections after weeks of turmoil and bloodshed.

Mr. Ghannouchi has insisted that ministers who have remained in control of the powerful portfolios they held under Mr. Ben Ali all have “clean hands.”

On Wednesday, the Swiss government announced that it would move to freeze the Swiss assets of Mr. Ben Ali “and his entourage,” Reuters reported, and the United Nations said at a news conference that a team of human rights officials would head to Tunisia within a week to investigate possible abuses during the weeks of protests that forced Mr. Ben Ali from power.

Amid efforts to begin addressing the wrongs of the past government, it remained unclear when Mr. Ghannouchi would summon the new administration to its first, formal meeting.

In Tunis, protesters — fewer than at earlier marches — held up banners demanding that all vestiges of Mr. Ben Ali’s party be expunged. Police vans lined their route, but compared with previous days, when billows of tear-gas rolled over the city center, the police seemed initially at least to be holding back from such confrontation. The authorities also said they would ease a curfew, allowing people to say on the street until 8 p.m.

The new government is backed by the military and a tiny group of recognized opposition leaders, but it seems caught in a war on two fronts. On one side are Mr. Ben Ali’s former security forces, which the government has accused of continued acts of violence.

On the other are the grass-roots protesters in the streets, who demanded a faster and more radical purge of the old government and whose loyalties the new government is battling to maintain. “You sympathize with the current government,” one woman shouted, expressing a common sentiment. “How are you supposed to represent the people?”
Tunisian prosecutors are looking at whether Ben Ali looted the Tunisian treasury, and the Swiss are also looking to freeze his assets.

And to think that the protests began in earnest after a Tunisian man immolated himself to protest the awful economic situation in the country:
Labor unions, students and members of the Ennahdha Islamist party — which Ben Ali banned in 1992 and cracked down upon for years — have been among those protesting since his ouster.

A new unity government announced Monday was mostly made up of old guard politicians. A day later, at least four opposition ministers quit, aligning themselves with demonstrators who insist democratic change is impossible with former Ben Ali supporters still in power.

Ghannouchi and interim president Fouad Mebazaa, the former speaker of the lower house of parliament, quit the ruling RCD party Tuesday in an attempt to distance themselves from Ben Ali. The party itself kicked out Ben Ali, its founder, national TV reported.

The protests began in December, 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. The move hit a nerve among frustrated jobless youths and prompted protests around the nation. Officials say 78 protesters and civilians died in the protests that swept Ben Ali from power — many killed by police bullets.

Ben Ali was often criticized for a heavy-handed repression against his opponents, curbing civil liberties and running a police state — though he was praised for developing tourism and allying with the U.S. against terrorism.
The Tunisian government says that it has released the last of political prisoners that were detained under Ben Ali, but that has done little to stem the calls for the interim government to step aside.

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