New government is ‘clean’, says Tunisian PM

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TUNIS/PARIS - Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi Tuesday defended the country’s day-old interim unity government, insisting that the six ministers retained from ousted president Zine el-Abidine ben Ali’s party had “clean hands”.

“All of them have clean hands and plenty of competence,” Ghannouchi told France’s Europe 1 radio in an interview.

The ministers, who were reappointed to their posts Monday after having served the autocratic Ben Ali, had “kept their portfolios because we need them in this phase (of building a democracy)”, Ghannouchi said.

The prime minister, who also kept his job, was defending the government from accusations by some opposition members that it is tainted by association with Ben Ali’s regime - even though it includes three opposition leaders.

The foreign, defence, interior and finance ministers are all members of Ben Ali’s hegemonic RCD (Constitutional Democratic Rally) party. But the health, higher education and regional development ministries went to the opposition.

Critics of the new government, who are calling for a complete break with the old order, demonstrated for a second day Tuesday in Tunis.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia last week after 23 years as leader.

He was overthrown by month of deadly demonstrations that began over unemployment and rising prices and swelled into a popular revolt.

The main task of the new government will be to organize parliamentary and presidential elections within six months.

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