Tunisia holds new government talks after revolt

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Tunis, Jan 16 (AFP) Tunisia''s main parties held talkstoday to form a national unity government as soldierspatrolled the streets amid fears of a backlash by supportersof ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Officials said the government would now investigatekillings of civilians during the wave of protests that led toBen Ali''s abrupt departure after 23 years in power and lookinto allegations of corruption of his inner circle.

Around 1,500 protesters held a peaceful rally in thecentral Tunisian town of Regueb in which they condemned thepolitical talks in the capital saying the new government wouldnot be truly democratic, a local trade union leader said.

"We didn''t rise up for the formation of a unitygovernment with a fake opposition," he said, adding thatdemonstrators had chanted "Limited negotiations are a fakedemocracy".

The army broke up the rally as protests are banned underthe rules of a state of emergency declared in the country onFriday. Regueb was the scene of several violent protests inthe 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.

Meanwhile, some cafes re-opened in the centre of thecapital 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 the headby a tear gas canister during the protests in central Tunis onFriday died of his injuries on Sunday, his relatives and asource at the French consulate said.

A source at the military hospital in Tunis earlier onSunday also said that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of the wife offormer president Ben Ali, was stabbed and died on Friday --the same day that the president fled to Saudi Arabia.

The night in Tunis was punctuated by the crackle ofgunfire and army helicopters circled overhead, as eyewitnessesreported people riding around in ambulances and cars in thesuburbs shooting up homes at random.

Observers said the transition of power in Tunisia wouldbe far from smooth.

"You can''t ignore the power of disruption of thepresidential security apparatus that was headed up by generalAli Seriati. It has thousands of supporters of Ben Ali," aninformed source said on condition of anonymity. (AFP)

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