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Tunisians sceptical of new cabinet
Dissatisfaction over inclusion of ruling party members in new 'national unity' government.
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2011 10:33 GMT
The new 'national unity' government includes several members of the incumbent party [Reuters]

The announcement of a new 'unity government' by Mohamed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister, has been met with anger by some protesters, who say too many members of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's party remain in power.

The PM announced that the former defence, foreign, interior and finance ministers will keep their key posts in the new government formed after the public uprising led to the flight of President Ben Ali.

Up to 1,000 protesters gathered mainly near Tunis' Habib Bourguiba Avenue to demonstrate against the announcement.

Tanks and troops were deployed, and water cannons and tear gas fired against activists who demanded that members of Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally (CDR) be excluded from the new government.

"Who did the revolt? It's the people, those trade union leaders ... they need to find their aspirations in the government. This government does not answer those aspirations," Masoud Ramadani, a workers union activist, told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera's correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin said protesters were "rejecting the possibility that any incoming or caretaker or national unity government could possibly have figures or leaders from the previous regime".

"They want the CDR party completely abolished, completely removed from any form of government".

Members of the interim government have defended its composition, however, saying that the members of the incumbent party who have been retained are not politicians.

"Members of the ruling party that are in the government are technocratic, they are not political. And we demanded that people who are dirty in corruption and crimes should be evacuated from this government," Ahmed Bouazzi, a member of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), said.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra identified the lack of a coherent opposition as "one of the biggest problems that Tunisia faces for the time being".

He said there were no "charismatic leaders" who could "channel the energy" from the uprising towards the formation of a new government.

In part, this is because "Ben Ali tailored the whole state around his persona. The police, the parliament, everything was linked to him", our correspondent said.

Furthermore, the opposition has been clamped down on for nearly three decades, with most of its leadership either "driven out of the country, or [spending] many years in jail".

"This is the big question. Who is going to take over, who is going to lead Tunisia into the future?"

Interim government

Ghannouchi announced the country's new interim government on Monday, adding that a number of opposition members will be assigned to ministerial posts.

The prime minister named Najib Chebbi, founder of the PDP, which opposed Ben Ali, as minister for regional development.

Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of the Ettajdid party, was named minister of higher education and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour, got the health portfolio.

Significantly, there will be a separation of the state from political parties, meaning that under the coalition government, the collection of parties will not fall under the control of a ruling party.

Opposition's limited role

One of Tunisia's best known opposition figures, Moncef Marzouki, on Monday branded his country's new government a "masquerade" still dominated by supporters of ousted strongman Ben Ali.

"Tunisia deserved much more," the secular leftist declared. "Ninety dead, four weeks of real revolution, only for it to come to this? A unity government in name only because, in reality, it is made up of members of  the party of dictatorship, the CRD,"said Marzouki on France's I-Tele.

According to Ahmed Friaa, Tunisia's interior minister, 78 people have been killed in the country during the recent turmoil, almost quadrupling the official death toll. He also estimated that the unrest had cost the country's economy $2.2 bn as a result of disruption of economic activity and lost export revenues.

Rachid al-Ghannouchi (no relation to Mohamed Ghannouchi), the exiled leader of the Nahdha Movement party, told London-based Asharq Alawsat newspaper that leaders of his party had not been invited to participate in the negotiations in forming the new unity government.

He expressed anger at the exclusion, but said his party would consider joining the government if asked to do so. 

Meanwhile Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary general, called for the establishment of the rule of law in Tunisia, while the Arab League said Arab states should consider what lessons could be learnt from the crisis.

Reforms announced

Ghannouchi also announced on Monday that the Tunisian government will investigate anyone suspected of corruption or of having amassed huge wealth under the country's deposed leader.

"Anyone who accumulated enormous wealth or is suspected of corruption will be put before a committee of investigators," said Ghannouchi.

He also said that there will be "total freedom" for the media in the country, which experienced especially tough crackdowns during the recent weeks of unrest.

Additionally, the prime minister said that a ban on the activities of human rights groups in Tunisia will be lifted and that all political prisoners would be freed.

"We have decided to free all the people imprisoned for their ideas, their  beliefs or for having expressed dissenting opinions," said Ghannouchi.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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