Plot uncovered in Tunisia as unity talks held

Tunis, Jan 16 (AFP) Tunisian authorities todaydenounced a plot against the state by backers of oustedstrongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as talks on national unitygot under way while heavy gunfire broke out here.

Officials said they had arrested the general in chargeof Ben Ali''s security apparatus, Ali Seriati, for plottingagainst the new leadership amid fears of a backlash bysupporters of the deposed president.

Ben Ali''s nephew, Kais Ben Ali, was meanwhile arrestedearlier in the day along with 10 others in the central town ofMsaken -- the Ben Ali family''s ancestral home -- overnight for"shooting at random" from police cars during the night.

The developments came as Tunisia''s main parties heldtalks on forming a national unity government following theabrupt departure after 23 years in power of Ben Ali, who fledto Saudi Arabia after a wave of protests against his regime.

In central Tunis, security forces exchanged fire withunidentified attackers hidden inside buildings, AFP reporterssaid. The shooting kicked off after an exchange of fireoustide the headquarters of the main opposition party.

Around 1,500 protesters meanwhile held a peacefulrally in the town of Regueb in which they slammed thepolitical talks in the capital saying the new government wouldnot be truly democratic, a local trade union leader said.

The army broke up the rally as protests are bannedunder the rules of a state of emergency declared in thecountry on Friday. Regueb was the scene of several violentprotests in the run-up to the ouster of Ben Ali.

Representatives of two parties banned under Ben Ali --the Communist party and the Islamist Ennahdha party -- wereexcluded from the government talks.

The head of Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, who lives inexile in London, told AFP earlier that he now intended toreturn to Tunisia.

Some cafes had re-opened earlier in the day in thecentre of Tunis -- the scene of violent clashes in the daysrunning up to Ben Ali''s abrupt departure on Friday -- as thearmy continued its lockdown of the city centre.

"There are major food shortages. We don''t have enoughbread and flour. We risk a food crisis if this continues,"said Najla, who was filling her basket with meat andvegetables at the main market in Tunis.

Long queues were seen outside the few bakeries andgroceries open.

A French photographer from the EPA agency hit in thehead by a tear gas canister during the protests in centralTunis on Friday died of his injuries today, his relatives anda source at the French consulate said.

A source at the military hospital in Tunis earlieralso said that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of the wife of formerpresident Ben Ali, was stabbed and died on Friday -- the sameday that the president fled the country.(AFP)

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