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Violence-scarred Tunisia announces new government

Associated Press | 1/18/2011, 7:05 p.m.

Streets of the capital appeared calmer Monday but police were posted on most corners in downtown Tunis, with busloads of forces waiting to deploy along some streets. Most shops remained shuttered, but a rare eatery, a pizza restaurant, opened its doors - filled mostly with hungry police officers.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi offered a number of concessions to try to appease Ben Ali’s critics, while maintaining the ruling party’s dominance of government and public posts around the country.

Ghannouchi, a longtime Ben Ali ally who has been premier since 1999, retained his post, as did the current ministers of defense, interior and foreign affairs.

Three opposition figures, including Nejib Chebbi, a founder of the opposition PDP party, will take up posts in the new government.

More significantly, Ghannouchi pledged such measures as freeing political prisoners and lifting restrictions on a leading human rights group, the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights. He said the government would create three new state commissions to study political reform, investigate corruption and bribery, and examine abuses during the recent upheaval.

However, at least one union leader said the changes were not enough and predicted demonstrations would continue until all key figures ruling party had been swept from power.

“It (the ruling RCD) left by the back door and is coming back through the window,” said Habib Jerjir, a member of the executive bureau of the Regional Workers’ Union of Tunis.

Meanwhile, demands for change were being made across sectors reined in by the Ben Ali regime's grip.

Journalists at the nation’s oldest state-run paper, La Presse, rose up in revolt Monday and dismissed the editor-in-chief, Gawhar Chatty. The paper, which featured daily front-page photos of Ben Ali or his wife, is to be run by a committee of journalists until new editorial leadership is appointed.

They advised Chatty by phone that he was no longer welcome but he came to work anyway.

The noted cartoonist Lotfi Ben Sassi marched into his office and said: “We can no longer allow you to continue with this editorial line.”

“We are journalists,” Lotfi said, his words captured by an Associated Press Television News cameraman.

When Chatty was asked later if he had restricted reporting, he responded, “Yes, there was censure.”

Some opposition leaders have pressed for waiting longer than the 60-day period prescribed by the constitution to hold presidential elections, saying that would allow the public to get to know candidates after a lifetime of one-party rule.

One opposition leader, Ahmed Ibrahim, who was appointed minister for higher education, told the website of the French weekly Le Point that elections would not be held “for six or seven months.” An official in the premier’s office said that would likely be the case.

The country is being run by interim president Fouad Mebazaa, the former speaker of the lower house of parliament and a veteran of Tunisia's ruling party.

Moncef Marzouki, a physician who leads the once-banned CPR party from exile in France where he has lived for the last 20 years, told France-Info radio he would be a candidate in the presidential election.