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Why Tunisia's interim government may not fly with protesters

Tunisia's prime minister announced an interim government that will include members of the opposition but also of the old regime. Hundreds of Tunisians took to the capital's streets again Monday in protest.

By Correspondent / January 17, 2011

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announces an interim government in Tunis, Monday. Ghannouchi, a longtime ally of outsted president Ben Ali, and several top ministers retained their posts in the shake-up, and at least one top opposition leader was expected to join the government.

Hassene Dridi/AP

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Tunis, Tunisia

Tunisia’s prime minister announced the formation of an interim unity government Monday that includes figures from the previous regime, as protesters thronged the streets to reject it.

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Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said the previous ministers of Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Finance would keep their jobs. Other posts were given to opposition leaders and independents, and one to a prominent blogger.

Mr. Ghannouchi also announced that the transitional government would create committees to investigate corruption and the events of the “last period.” He pledged that it would free all political prisoners, ensure freedom of expression, allow new political parties to be formed, and welcome international monitors at the upcoming elections. Al Arabiya reported that Ghannouchi said elections would take place within six months, not the two-months time frame suggested earlier.

The government will “partition the state from all the political parties and guarantee the neutrality of the administration,” Ghannouchi said at a news conference. "We are committed to intensifying our efforts to reestablish calm and peace in the hearts of all Tunisians. Our priority is security, as well as political and economic reform."

Tunisia’s president for 23 years, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled the country Friday, toppled by four weeks of popular protests against rising unemployment, government corruption, and political repression. While Tunisians are joyful he has gone, they are skeptical of Monday’s announcement.

Protesters in the heart of the capital, Tunis, rejected the idea of any government that included members of the former president’s circle. Hundreds gathered on Tunis’s central avenue, shouting slogans against the RCD, the party of Mr. Ben Ali and Ghannouchi. Police let the protest build before firing on demonstrators with a water cannon and then with tear gas. The demonstrators scattered, then reconvened to shout louder than before, calling Ghannouchi a dog.

Many of the people at today's protest were from leftist parties, such as the Communist party, that had been outlawed by Ben Ali and were not included in the new transitional government.

“This government represents [Ben Ali],” said Siwar, a young woman who held a sign that said “RCD out!” She had come from Kef, in northwestern Tunisia, to express her opposition to any government that includes members of the RCD. “They represent 23 years of oppression. If the opposition is participating in this government, this opposition doesn’t represent the people,” she said. “We want a real opposition, real representatives of the people, and we want the RCD to go.”

Moments later, the protesters dispersed in panic, rushing down side streets as the police fired tear gas, then began beating people with batons.

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