Tunisia cabinet to lift party bans

Interim government decides to recognise previously banned parties and adopts an amnesty for all political prisoners.

    Protester cheered as the sign with the former ruling party's name was torn off the wall of the headquarters [Reuters]

    Tunisia's transitional cabinet has 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 first session on Thursday amid an outcry over its inclusion of members of the regime of the ousted president.

    "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 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 Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former president who fled into exile in Saudi Arabia last Friday after weeks of anti-government protests.

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    turmoil in Tunisia

    The cabinet declared three days of national mourning starting on Friday following the country's deadly unrest. The government has said 78 people have been killed since the uprising started in December but the United Nations has put the toll at about 100.

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

    However, Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from 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, may not have been freed yet, being kept under Tunisian anti-terror laws."

    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 the capital, 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 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.

    Another resignation

    Responding to the ministers' departure from RCD, the party announced that its central committee had been dissolved, as many of the ministers were also committee members. The party itself would continue to operate, state television said.

    Also on Thursday, the minister of administrative development stepped down.

    "I am stepping down for the higher interests of the country in this delicate situation to try to bring the country out of crisis and ensure a democratic transition," Zouheir M'Dhaffar, a prominent member of the former ruling party and one of the closest to Bin Ali, was quoted as saying by the official TAP news agency.

    The interim government has pledged free and fair elections within six months but has given no dates.

    Under the constitution, parliamentary and presidential elections should take place in less than two months.

    The US said on Thursday that it hoped conditions stabilise sufficiently to have "credible elections" later this year.

    "As the people of Tunisia chart a different future, political and social stability are essential ingredients for credible elections," Philip Crowley, the state department spokesman, said on the microblogging site Twitter.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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