Violence-scarred Tunisia announces new government

Tunis (Tunisia), Jan 17 (AP) Tunisia''s prime ministerannounced a national unity government on Monday, allowingopposition into the country''s leadership for the first time ina bid to quell simmering unrest following the ouster ofPresident Zine El Abidine Ben Ali amid huge street protests.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a longtime allyof Ben Ali, and several top ministers retained their posts inthe shake-up. Ghannouchi also announced that politicalprisoners would be freed, among an array of measures aimed atloosening up a political system that for decades waseffectively under one-party rule.

A key question was whether the changes in thegovernment lineup would be enough to stabilise the NorthAfrican country that has been reeling amid continued unrestafter Ben Ali fled fled on Friday 23 years after he first tookpower.

Ghannouchi, who has been premier since 1999 and haskept his post throughout the upheaval, said the currentministers of defence, interior and foreign affairs would keeptheir posts.

Three opposition figures, including Nejib Chebbi, afounder of the opposition PDP party, will take up posts in thegovernment a breakthrough in a country that the autocratic BenAli led for more than two decades.

Until new presidential elections are held, thecountry is being run by interim president Fouad Mebazaa,former speaker of the lower house of parliament, also aveteran of Tunisia''s ruling party.

Ghannouchi said all nongovernmental associationsthat seek it would be automatically recognized, and all therestrictions on the Tunisian League for the Defense of HumanRights would be lifted.

Many opponents of Ben Ali''s rule have taken to thestreets to express their hopes that the new government wouldnot include of any remnants of his iron-fisted regime.

Earlier Monday, security forces fired tear gas torepel angry demonstrators ahead of the announcement. In alater march, a small, peaceful gruop of youths carried signsreading "GET OUT" under the gaze of watchful police, part ofhundreds of security forces in the capital.

A union leader upset at the prospect of agovernment full of old guard ministers, predicted growingdemonstrations to press for an end to power positions for theRCD.

"It (RCD) left by the back door and is coming backthrough the window," said Habib Jerjir, member of theexecutive bureau of the Regional Workers'' Union of Tunis. "Wecan''t have militias in the streets and in the government."(AP)

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