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Ministers Quit New Tunisian Govt

Troops battle protesters on the the streets as country's new government faces early challenges.


Protestors react to soldiers during a demonstration in downtown Tunis January 17, 2011. (REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia's junior minister for transportation has said that he and two
other ministers with ties to a top labour union have resigned from the
newly formed government.

Anouar Ben Gueddour said on Tuesday that he has resigned along with
Houssine Dimassi minister of training and employment, and Abdeljelil
Bedoui, a minister dealing with prime ministerial affairs. They are all
members of a general national labour union.

Their walkout comes a day after Mohamed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister, announced a new 'unity government'.

The announcement was met with anger by some Tunisians, who said too
many members of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's party remain
in power.

Ghannouchi was one of eight ministers staying on from the previous
government of Ben Ali, who resigned and fled on Friday in the Arab
world's first such popular revolt.

Ghannouchi said that the ministers remaining, including the defence
and interior ministers, had acted "to preserve the national interest."

"They kept their posts because we need them at this time," Ghannouchi said on French radio. "All of them have clean hands."

Widespread protests

Tunisians not happy with the new cabinet gathered on Tuesday to protest in the capital and several major cities.

Tunisia's main trade union, which played a key role in protests
against the North African state's ousted president, refused to recognise
the new government.

The union has decided "not to recognise the new government," Ifa Nasr, union spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The General Union of Tunisian Workers, better known under its French
acronym UGTT, took the decision at an extraordinary meeting near Tunis.

In Tunis, riot police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters
during a rally against the new government in the centre of the capital.

Al Jazeera's Nabeel Rihani, reporting from Tunis, said that security forces tried to prevent protesters from regrouping.

"There is news about similar protests in several major cities ...  they are protesting the participation of the ruling party."

"Who did the revolt? It's the people, those trade union leaders ...
they need to find their aspirations in the government. This government
does not answer those aspirations," Masoud Ramadani, a workers union
activist, told Al Jazeera.

Members of the interim government have defended its composition,
however, saying that the members of the incumbent party who have been
retained are not politicians.

"Members of the ruling party that are in the government are
technocratic, they are not political. And we demanded that people who
are dirty in corruption and crimes should be evacuated from this
government," Ahmed Bouazzi, a member of the Progressive Democratic Party
(PDP), said.

Exiled leader returns

Moncef Marzouki, an exiled opposition leader and presidential
hopeful, on Monday branded his country's new government a "masquerade"
still dominated by supporters of ousted strongman Ben Ali.


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"Tunisia deserved much more," the secular leftist declared.

"Ninety dead, four weeks of real revolution,
only for it to come to this? A unity government in name only because,
in reality, it is made up of members of  the party of dictatorship, the
CRD," Marzouki said.

Al Jazeera's Hashem Ahelbarra reported that Marzouki, a 65-year-old
medical doctor and human rights activist, was met by a crowd on his
supporters at Tunis airport on Tuesday.

Marzouki told them that he would ask Saudi Arabia to hand over Ben
Ali to be prosecuted in Tunisia for "crimes committed against the ppl of

In 2001 he founded the secular centre-left opposition party Congress for the Republic.

A year later it was banned and he fled into exile in France from where he now returns to Tunisia.

Ahelbarra identified the lack of a coherent opposition as "one of the biggest problems that Tunisia faces for the time being".

He said there were no "charismatic leaders" who could "channel the
energy" from the uprising towards the formation of a new government.

In part, this is because "Ben Ali tailored the whole state around his
persona. The police, the parliament, everything was linked to him", our
correspondent said.

Furthermore, the opposition has been clamped down on for nearly three
decades, with most of its leadership either "driven out of the country,
or [spending] many years in jail".

"This is the big question. Who is going to take over, who is going to lead Tunisia into the future?"

Revised death toll

According to Ahmed Friaa, Tunisia's interior minister, 78 people have
been killed in the country during the recent turmoil, almost
quadrupling the official death toll.

He also estimated that the unrest had cost the country's economy
$2.2bn as a result of disruption of economic activity and lost export

Rachid al-Ghannouchi (no relation to Mohamed Ghannouchi), the exiled leader of the Nahdha Movement party, told London-based Asharq Alawsat
newspaper that leaders of his party had not been invited to participate
in the negotiations in forming the new unity government.

He expressed anger at the exclusion, but said his party would consider joining the government if asked to do so.

Ghannouchi, the prime minister, has said that Rached Ghannouchi would
only be able to return to the North African state from Britain once an
amnesty law had been approved.

Rached Ghannouchi was sentenced to life in prison by the old government for plotting against the state.

Meanwhile Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary general, called for the
establishment of rule of law in Tunisia, while the Arab League said Arab
states should consider what lessons could be learnt from the crisis.

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