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Africa
Tunisia protesters press for change
Upheaval continues in North African nation as hundreds of demonstrators, including police officers, take to the streets.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2011 10:42 GMT

Thousands of demonstrators, including police officers, lawyers and students, have taken to the streets of Tunisia's capital in another day of upheaval in the North African country.  

While many protesters are continuing to demand the dissolution of the interim government, police officers who have also joined the protests are seeking better working conditions and an improvement to what they call unfair media portrayal.

Saturday's protests come in the wake of a month of turmoil that toppled Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's longstanding ruler.

Crowds gathered in front of the office of Mohamed Ghannouchi, the prime minister, and on Tunis' main street, the Avenue Habib Bourguiba. They were joined by members of the national guard and fire departments.

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turmoil in Tunisia

At the prime minister's office, Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported that protesters had broken through barricades, but that no violence had occurred.

"The anti-riot squad has completely changed tactics," our correspondent said. "They're saying, 'Do what ever you want to do but please don't storm the office of the prime minister. That is a red line."

The police say they have been held accountable for the policies of a repressive government that has acted against its people for years, he said.

"What you see here is quite unprecedented, extraordinary, something never seen before in the Arab world," our correspondent said. "They are saying that they were victims, that they were used by the former dictator, that those who have to be held accountable and brought before justice are the senior members of the government and the ministry of the interior."

They are asking for their own union, to better represent their views to the media and public, our correspondent said.

Protests have continued in Tunisia even after Ben Ali fled the country, since many are angry over the inclusion of several prominent members of his regime in the new interim government. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Friday, seeking the dissolution of the interim administration.

A pledge aimed to placate

In an effort to dampen continued anger, Ghannouchi, a former ally of Ben Ali, has pledged to quit politics after elections that he says will be held as soon as possible.

In an interview on Tunisian television on Friday, Ghannouchi said he will leave power after a transition phase that leads to legislative and presidential elections "in the shortest possible timeframe".

Ghannouchi was a member the RCD. Despite resigning his membership in the party, he has been struggling to restore calm under a new multiparty government that the opposition complains retains too many RCD members.

Presidential elections must be held within 60 days, and Ghannouchi has said he will not run [Reuters]

"My role is to bring my country out of this temporary phase and even if I am nominated I will refuse it and leave politics," Ghannouchi said.

Ghannouchi did not say why he is leaving politics or specify when the elections would be held. He said the elections must be a success "to show the world that our country has a civilization".

The prime minister also said that all of the assets held abroad by Ben Ali's regime had been frozen and would be returned to Tunisia after an investigation.

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyedin, reporting from Tunis, said that Ghannouchi announced the state would provide compensation to those who died during the uprising, as well as their families.

He ordered the army and the justice department to preserve any documents and evidence that can be gathered so the old regime can be implicated throughout the investigation.

US calls for elections

Tunisia began three days of mourning on Friday, lowering flags to half-mast and broadcasting recitations of the Quran to mourn dozens who died in the protests that drove the Ben Ali from power.

Central Tunis has seen near-daily demonstrations in the past week by those who say the caretaker government is still too dominated by allies of the ousted president, but security forces and the army have not opened fire since Ben Ali's ouster.

The United States, meanwhile, has voiced support for the will of the Tunisian people.

"It is very important that we have a broad dialogue with civil society, some important steps have already been taken by authorizing opposition parties and liberalising media coverage," PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, told Al Jazeera.

"These are important steps by clearly it needs to be more to satisfy the Tunisian people."

The US ambassador to Tunisia, Gordon Gray, told Al Jazeera earlier in his first public remarks on the uprising that the democratic transition remained "a work in progress" and represented "a new phenomenon."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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