New Tunisia PM appointed

Mohammed Ghannouchi steps down amid continuing unrest that leaves at least five anti-government protesters dead.

    Rallies calling for a new leadership in Tunisia have continued even after the departure of President Ben Ali [AFP]

    Mohammed Ghannouchi, Tunisia's interim prime minister, has resigned, as security forces clashed with protesters in Tunis, the capital, who were demanding some of his minsters be removed.

    Hours later it was announced that former minister Al-Baji Ca'ed al-Sebsi would take over the premiership. Al-Sebsi was foreign minister under Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's president after independence,

    Ghannouchi made the announcement on state television on Sunday, saying that he had thought carefully before taking the decision and that he had the support of his family.

    "I am not running away from responsibility ... This is to open the way for a new prime minister," he said. "I am not ready to be the person who takes decisions that would end up causing casualties."

    Ghannouchi has led Tunisia since former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on January 14 following a popular uprising.

    But Ghannouchi was a longtime ally of Ben Ali and, though he pledged elections to be held by mid-July, protesters have called for him to step aside.

    "He's been under real pressure since he took over, and that pressure increased in the past 48 hours," said Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Eastern Tunisia.

    Deadly clashes

    Ziad Cherni, a Tunisian lawyer and human rights activist, said that Ghannouchi's resignation and the installation of al-Sebsi would not be enough to placate protesters.

    "The government right now is not responsive to the wishes of the revolution - it is not enough that the prime minister resigned. His speech was not sufficient," he told Al Jazeera.

    "I think Tunisian people are clever enough to know that this [al-Sebsi's premiership] was not a real change - they changed the head, but not the regime."

    The change in the government's leadership follows renewed street protests. Officials said that at least five people have died in violent street protests since Friday.

    The interior ministry on Saturday blamed "provocateurs" for fomenting violence in otherwise peaceful rallies and for allegedly using young people as human shields in renewed demonstrations.

    On Saturday, police and troops - backed by tanks - used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths protesting against the caretaker government. Officers were seen chasing some youths through town after the rally ended.

    Authorities then ordered a temporary ban on vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the capital's central Bourguiba Avenue until midnight Sunday - the first of its kind since Ben Ali's downfall.

    Ghannouchi had previously vowed to stay on to guide Tunisia until elections could be organised this summer.

    Demonstrators arrested

    An interior ministry official, who declined to be named, told the Reuters news agency that the deaths had occurred after a riot orchestrated by Ben Ali loyalists.

    "Those who were arrested have admitted they were pushed by former Ben Ali officials," he said. "Others said they were paid to do it."

    The interior ministry statement said more than 100 people were arrested on Saturday and 88 people had been arrested on Friday.

    A spokesman for Ennahda, Tunisia's main Islamist group, said Ghannouchi's resignation could pave the way to broader participation in the interim government.

    Ennahda was banned for two decades under Ben Ali's rule and had complained of being shut out of the caretaker government run by Ghannouchi.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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