Tunisia PM vows to quit

Mohamed Ghannouchi pledges to step down amid fresh protests calling for the departure of all remnants of the old regime.

    Mohamed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister, 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."

    After a month of widespread protests ended with the ouster of longtime Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, protesters have continued to demand the departure of all remnants of Ben Ali's old guard.

    Victim compensation

    Ghannouchi was an ally of Ben Ali and a member of his ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (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.

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    turmoil in Tunisia

    "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.

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

    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.

    Fresh protests

    Earlier in the day, thousands of Tunisians gathered in front of the interior ministry, demanding the dissolution of the new interim government that assumed power after Ben Ali fled the country on December 14.

    The protesters marched down the Avenue Habib Bourguiba on Friday morning in Tunis, , chanting anti-government slogans, Al Jazeera's Yasmine Ryan reported.

    Police blocked the protesters at the interior ministry and prepared water cannons, she said. Protesters soon dispersed, with many heading towards the headquarters of the main labour union, calling for a general strike.

    Later in the day, some police officers joined protesters in a march towards the prime minister's office, Al Jazeera's Nazinine Moshiri reported.

    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 autocratic Ben Ali from power.

    The United Nations estimates that more than 100 people have died in the upheaval, during which police used teargas and live ammunition against protesting crowds.

    Central Tunis has seen near-daily demonstrations in the past week by those who say the caretaker government is still too dominated by cronies 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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