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'Liberation caravan' reaches Tunis
Hundreds of protesters overwhelm security forces surrounding office of interim PM as they rally in the capital.
Last Modified: 23 Jan 2011 19:41 GMT
Security barricades failed to hold the crowd of protesters, who reached government buildings on Sunday [AFP] 

Hundreds of Tunisians have defied a nighttime curfew and travelled hundreds of kilometres in what they call a "Liberation caravan" to join protesters in the country's capital, where anger at the interim government continues to grow.

The protesters entered the capital, Tunis, on Sunday, tearing through the barbed wire surrounding the office of Mohamed Ghannouchi, the interim prime minister, and demanding an end to his government.

The protesters began marching on Saturday night from Menzel Bouzaiane, a small town in the same province as Sidi Bouzid - the site of the self-immolation suicide attempt that set off a month of protests and ultimately ousted former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The crowd walked on foot for about 50km before boarding buses to Tunis, where they arrived on Sunday and began assembling in front of the interior ministry - the site of many anti-government demonstrations.

'Security overwhelmed'

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Tunis, said that the security service outside Ghannouchi's office were "completely overwhelmed".

"They're chanting the same slogan that has echoed across the country - 'Down with the regime, down with the former party, down with the interim president and with the prime minister,'" our correspondent said.

"They're saying that the fight will continue for as long as it takes, until they see a radical change in Tunisia."

Meanwhile, the country's state news agency reported on Sunday that allies of Ben Ali - Abdelaziz bin Dhia, Ben Ali's spokesman and chief adviser, and Abdallah Qallal, a former interior minister and head of Tunisia's appointed upper parliamentary house - had been placed under house arrest.

The agency said police were searching for Abdelwahhab Abdalla, Ben Ali's political adviser, who has disappeared and that Larbi Nasra, the owner of Hannibal TV and his son have been arrested on suspicion of "treason" for working on Ben Ali's return from Saudi Arabia (where the deposed president currently is currently in exile). 

Nasra, the agency reports, is related to Ben Ali's wife, Leila, and while the channel was taken off the air for about two hours, no official reason was given for why its transmission was interrupted other than to say that it was an error.

PM under pressure

Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin said that the fact that protesters - who in previous days have been joined by police officers and members of the national guard - have now defied a curfew and poured into the capital from the countryside is quite significant.

"It shows you that it's not an isolated, handful of people that are leading these protests," he said,  reporting from Tunis.

"It's people from all different walks of life, from all different parts of the country."

Our correspondent also reported that Ghannouchi had defended his choice of ministers, however, in an effort to dampen the anger, Ghannouchi, a former ally of Ben Ali, pledged to quit politics after elections that he says will be held as soon as possible.

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turmoil in Tunisia

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

Despite resigning his RCD membership, he has been struggling to restore calm under a new multiparty government that the opposition complains retains too many members of the party. Fouad Mebazaa, the interim president, also resigned his RCD membership.

"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.

He did not specify when the elections would be held, though the constitution requires a presidential vote within 60 days.

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

The prime minister also announced that the state would provide compensation to those who died during the uprising, as well as their families.

The army and the justice department have been ordered to preserve any documents and evidence that can be gathered during the unrest in order to investigate the old government, our correspondent said.

Ban on political groups lifted

The transitional government has also said that it would lift a ban on political groups, including the al-Nahda (Renaissance) party.

The exiled leader of the formerly banned party, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, told Al Jazeera on Saturday that al-Nahda is democratic and should not be feared and rejected any comparison between him and Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"We are a moderate Islamic movement, a democratic movement based on democratic ideals in ... Islamic culture. Some people pull Khomeini's robe over me, while I am no Khomeini nor a Shia," he said.

Mohamed Ghannouchi, the interim prime minister - of not relation to Rachid al-Ghannouchi - has said that the Nahda leader cannot return to Tunisia until a 1991 prison sentence is lifted.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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