Tunisia mourns unrest victims
North African nation begins three-day mourning to honour those who died in the uprising that toppled president Ben Ali.
Last Modified: 21 Jan 2011 06:40 GMT
Protesters continue to vent their anger against Ben Ali and members of his former regime [Reuters]

Tunisians have begun a three-day period of national mourning for those who died during the month-long uprising that overthrew longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The mourning, which began on Friday, is meant to honour the dozens of people who died during widespread protests and confrontations with security forces who used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds.

According to the United Nations, about 100 people died during the upheaval that swept across the North African country.

Protests in Tunisia have continued even after Ben Ali fled the country on December 14, and a new interim government offered major concessions.

Lifting party bans

On Thursday, during its first session, Tunisia's transitional cabinet decided to recognise all banned political parties and agreed on a general amnesty for all political prisoners.

The interim government, appointed earlier this week, held its session amid a furore over its inclusion of several members who had been ministers in Ben Ali's government.

"The minister of justice presented a bill for a general amnesty, which was adopted by the cabinet, which decided to submit it to parliament," Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the development minister, said.

Asked if the government had decided to lift bans on political groups, including the Islamist al-Nahda movement, Mohamed Aloulou, the youth minister, said: "We will recognise all the political movements."

Rachid al-Ghannouchi, the exiled head of al-Nahda, told Al Jazeera earlier this week that he plans to return to Tunisia. However, the prime minister said he would only be able to do so once the amnesty law is passed because he carries a life sentence for plots against the state.

'Bring back resources'

Tayyib Al Bakouchi, the government spokesman, said the multiparty government pledged to make security its top priority, to prepare for new presidential elections and speed up political reforms.

The ministers also vowed to restore goods and real estate appropriated by the ruling party under Ben Ali, who fled into exile in Saudi Arabia last Friday.

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turmoil in Tunisia

The government said 1,800 political prisoners have already been freed this week.

However, Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the capital, Tunis, said it was difficult to know how many detainees there had been in the first place.

"We've heard earlier in the day that some Islamist ones belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, being kept under Tunisian anti-terror laws, may not have been freed yet."

All ministers of the cabinet were present in Thursday's meeting except five who resigned earlier this week, refusing to sit in a unity government with members of the former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).

Before the cabinet convened, all of the eight ministers in the new government who had been members of RCD quit the party, without giving up their cabinet posts.

Hundreds protest

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the RCD headquarters in Tunis, demanding that ministers associated with the rule of Ben Ali leave the government.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin meets the mother of the 26-year-old whose suicide sparked the uprising

Using a large steel cable, a government employee tore off the Arabic letters of the party's name from the facade.

Amid shouts protesting against the transitional government, the crowd brandished signs reading: "We are no longer afraid of you, traitors," and "RCD out!"

Soldiers fired shots in the air to keep the crowd away, while the police, blamed for shooting down demonstrators during a month of popular revolt against Ben Ali's regime, remained on the sidelines.

"I am with you. We are not going to shoot you. What matters is that the rally is peaceful," an army captain promised the crowd, who reacted with applause.

For the first time since the fall of Ben Ali, there were also protests in other towns across Tunisia.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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