(by Lin Noueihed and Andrew Hammond, YahooNews.com) TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s new coalition government hit trouble Tuesday, with three ministers quitting and an opposition party threatening to walk out in protest at the presence of members of the party of the ousted president.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi brought opposition leaders into the coalition Monday after president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following weeks of street protests. But key figures from the old guard kept their jobs, angering many.
Police in Tunis repeatedly used teargas in an attempt to break up a protest by several hundred opposition party supporters and trade unionists who labeled the new government a “sham.” Protesters would scatter, but then regroup to continue.
Several hundred people also protested against the new government in Monastir, south of Tunis.
Abid al-Briki of the Tunisian labor union UGTT said its three ministers would withdraw from the government because it included members of Ben Ali’s RCD party.
“This is in response to the demands of people on the streets,” Briki said.
The opposition ministers, who [quit had been] given junior positions in the cabinet. [They] are Houssine Dimassi, nominated for the training and employment portfolio, and two ministers of state, Abdeljelil Bedoui and Anouar Ben Gueddour.
The opposition Ettajdid party will pull out of the coalition if ministers from Ben Ali’s RCD party do not give up party membership and return to the state all properties they obtained through the RCD, state television said.
Ettajdid leader Ahmed Ibrahim was named minister of higher education in the interim cabinet.
On the streets, protesters insisted that ministers who had served Ben Ali had no place in the government.
“The new government is a sham. It’s an insult to the revolution that claimed lives and blood,” said student Ahmed al-Haji.
“The problem with the interim government is it has a number of ministers from the old government,” protester Sami bin Hassan said.
Ghannouchi defended his government, saying some ministers had been kept on because they were needed in the run-up to elections, expected in the next two months.
“We have tried to put together a mix that takes into account the different forces in the country to create the conditions to be able to start reforms,” Ghannouchi told Europe 1 radio.
Ghannouchi rejected suggestions that the Ben Ali “dictatorship” would continue under a new guise.
His foreign minister, Kamel Morjane, said during a visit to Egypt that the interim government would respond to issues that had angered protesters, such as corruption, and would be preparing for new elections.
“It may be possible that the next government will not have any member of the former government,” he said.
Paris-based opposition leader Moncef Marzouki arrived at Tunis airport to be met by 200 cheering supporters.
“The revolution must continue,” Marzouki, who went into exile after being harassed by Ben Ali’s intelligence services, said.
The weeks of protests against poverty and unemployment in Tunisia which forced Ben Ali from office prompted fears across the Arab world that similarly repressive governments might also face popular unrest.
In Tunis Tuesday, people in several parts of the city reported hearing sporadic gunfire overnight but there was significantly less gunfire than on previous nights.
A Reuters photographer in the Ariana suburb of Tunis said local people were organizing neighborhood groups to clean up the damage left by several days of lawlessness.
The government says at least 78 people were killed in the unrest, and the cost in damage and lost business was $2 billion.
Ghannouchi promised to release all political prisoners and to investigate those suspected of corruption Those behind the killing of demonstrators would face justice.
The wave of protests has hit stock and currency markets from Jordan to Morocco amid fears that the Tunisian unrest would spread abroad.
The prime minister said the ministers of defense, interior, finance and foreign affairs under Ben Ali would keep their jobs in the new government.
Among opposition figures, Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), was named minister of regional development, Ettajdid party leader Ahmed Ibrahim higher education minister and Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labor, health minister.
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Argoubiby, Tarek Amara, Christian Lowe and Antony Paone; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by Jason Neely)
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NOTE: Before answering the questions, read the background below and watch the video under “Resources.”
1. a) What is the capital of Tunisia?
b) What is the population of Tunisia?
c) Where is Tunisia located?
d) What is the official language of Tunisia – what additional language is used for business?
2. Why did three new ministers from Tunisia’s new coalition government (all members of the Tunisian labor union UGTT) quit Tuesday?
3. For what reason will opposition party Ettajdid pull out of the coalition government?
4. How do Tunisian protesters view the new coalition government? (NOTE: coalition is defined as: the joining together of different political parties or groups for a particular purpose, usually for a limited time [from dictionary.cambridge.org])
5. How did Prime Minister Ghannouchi defend his decision to appoint members of ousted President Ben Ali’s party to government office?
6. What initially set off the protests in Tunisia?
7. How is/might the ouster of President Ben Ali in Tunisia affect other Arab countries/leaders?
(from the CIA World FactBook website cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html):
- [France won control of Tunisia from Italy] in 1881 and [made it] a protectorate.
- [Tunisia won independence from France] in 1956.
- The country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation.
- In November 1987, Bourguiba was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a bloodless coup.
- Ben Ali [was] serving his fifth consecutive five-year term as president [until protests over the past month caused him to flee to Saudi Arabia on Friday, Jan. 14, 2011].
- Tunisia has long taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it has sought to defuse rising pressure for a more open political society.
(from the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5439.htm#gov):
- Despite the Government of Tunisia’s stated commitment to making progress toward a democratic system, citizens do not enjoy political freedom.
- The government imposes restrictions on freedom of association and speech and does not allow a free press.
- Many critics have called for clearer, effective distinctions between executive, legislative, and judicial powers.
- Foreign media, including foreign-based satellite television channels, have criticized the Tunisian Government for the lack of press freedom.
- Tunisia ranked number 154 out of 173 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders list of World Press Freedom rankings, down from 143 in the previous year.
- As reflected in the State Department’s annual human rights report, there are frequent reports of torture and abuse of prisoners, especially political prisoners.
- The demonstrations and riots [in Tunisia] were reported to have started over unemployment, food inflation, corruption, [a lack of] freedom of speech and poor living conditions.
- The protests ultimately culminated in the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who stepped down from the presidency and fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 after 23 years in power.
- The protests began in December 2010 after Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after police confiscated his produce cart.
- The protests constituted the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia in three decades and have resulted in scores of deaths and injuries.
- Following Ben Ali’s departure, a new election was called [for to occur] within 60 days.
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