Tunisia extends state of emergency, ends curfew

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Tunis, Feb 15 (AFP) Tunisian authorities todayextended a state of emergency imposed as president Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali fled a month ago but ordered an end to anationwide curfew.

The interior ministry also warned in a statementagainst attempts to sow discord between the police and army inthe fragile North African country and condemned protests byextremists, the official TAP news agency said.

"To prevent anything that may harm the security of thestate and to ensure the security of citizens and protection ofpublic and private goods, it was decided to extend the stateof emergency from today until further notice," the statementnoted.

The state of emergency had been imposed on January 14as strongman Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in the face of apopular revolt that saw nearly a month of demonstrationsagainst unemployment, living costs and the government.

The country has confronted pockets of unrest sincethen and was forced this month to call up reservists tobolster the army.

The interior ministry also said the nationwide curfew,in force since January 12 at the height of the popular revoltagainst Ben Ali, was being lifted across the country.

Its statement condemned protests by extremists andslogans that it said called for more violence.

It also called for the police, behind a violentcrackdown of the protests against Ben Ali, to be vigilantagainst "desperate attempts" to stir conflict between them andthe army, which had sided with the protestors.

About 200 people were killed in security force effortsto quell the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" that ended BenAli''s 23 years in power.

His ouster inspired similar protest movements acrossthe Middle East and North Africa and was the prelude to theeven more dramatic toppling of Egyptian president HosniMubarak last week.

The interim government led by Prime Minister MohamedGhannouchi has vowed to hold Tunisia''s first free electionswithin six months, declared full freedom of speech and adoptedan amnesty law for those persecuted by the former regime.

But some members of the interim authority have accusedBen Ali loyalists of fomenting unrest against the newleadership in an attempt to derail the transition todemocracy.

As the government grapples with the instability, itsforeign minister quit on Sunday and Italy has piled onpressure for it to stop illegal migration after a flood of itscitizens crossed into Italy in the past week. (AFP)

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