Tunisia advances elections to July as protests continue

Saturday, February 26, 2011

LONDON/TUNIS - Tunisia’s caretaker government promised to hold elections in mid-July in stead of September as protests revitalised in the country seeking immediate removal of the interim prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.

According to BBC, police cleared the demonstrators who marched through the capital Tunis Friday demanding the resignation of Ghannouchi, a long-time ally of the ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Ghannouchi had served under Ben Ali since 1999.

It was the biggest rally since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia Jan 14 after 23 years in power, following weeks of unrest. The interim government vowed smooth transition of power after elections which were earlier scheduled in September.

Around 100,000 protesters marched down Tunis’ main avenue chanting “Ghannouchi leave”. Police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse them from premises of the interior ministry.

A cabinet statement Friday said the government “has decided that consultations with different political parties should not exceed mid-March… Elections will be organised at the latest in mid-July 2011″.

The statement also said that it has seized the assets of a total of 110 members of Ben Ali’s entourage following similar action on 46 other members, the BBC said citing TAP news agency.

After Ben Ali’s exit, Ghannouchi has introduced several reforms and sacked some controversial cabinet members in order to appease protesters.

Demonstrators still fear that their revolution could be hijacked due to the presence of figures from Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime in the interim cabinet.

Since Sunday, they have been occupying the square next to the prime minister’s office, where they have set up tents and plastered the walls of the main government buildings with graffiti, the BBC report said.

The toppling of Ben Ali’s 23-year-regime in Tunisia triggered similar uprisings in other countries as well.

In an immediate fallout, a mass protest in Egypt led to the fall of the three-decade-old rule of Hosni Mubarak who resigned as Egyptian president Feb 11. Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and other countries in the region have been facing similar protests.

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