Over the past several weeks, widespread protests over high unemployment and high food prices have pitched demonstrators against Tunisia’s police and military and lead to the ouster of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Hoping to placate protesters, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced on Monday that there would be a government of national unity. But just one day later, four ministers have withdrawn from the national unity government. Three members of the opposition General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) were joined by Health Minister Mustafa ben Jaafar, a key opposition leader, putting pressure on Ghannouchi to resign as well. Ghannouchi defended the inclusion of members of the old regime in his new government, and said they had “clean hands” and had always acted “to preserve the international interest.” He repeated pledges made on Monday of a new “era of freedom,” which would see political parties free to operate and a free press. He said free and fair elections would be held within six months, controlled by an independent election commission and monitored by international observers. But while some protesters appeared ready to wait and see, others immediately described the new government as a sham. For now, demonstrations continue in Tunis, and new protests were reported in Sfax, Regueb, Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid—where the revolt began in December when a 26-year-old man set himself on fire.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011