After ousting Tunisian leader, protesters struggle to find their own

In the face of more Tunisian protests, four opposition ministers were forced to resign today from the new unity government only a day after it was formed.

Christophe Ena/AP
Protestors hold bread as they face riot police officers during a demonstration against the Constitutional Democratic Rally, RCD, party of Ben Ali in the center of Tunis, Tuesday. Four ministers quit Tunisia's day-old government on Tuesday, undermining its hopes of quelling unrest by sharing power with members of the opposition to the old regime.

Tunisia's unity government got off to a shaky start one day after being formed, underlining the faltering position of Tunisia’s opposition as it attempts to harness a popular uprising that it did not drive.

The political parties that were stifled during Mr. Ben Ali’s 23-year rule now appear to have lost credibility with some Tunisians for agreeing too quickly to a government that did not satisfy the population's desire for a clean slate.

Four opposition ministers were forced to quit their posts Tuesday in the face of continued popular protests that have already taken at least 78 lives and cost Tunisia's economy $2 billion.

Tunisia’s interim president and prime minister resigned from the party of ousted president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali in an apparent attempt to distance themselves from his legacy of corruption.

“It’s a very tense atmosphere right now. No one is predicting this government will stay,” says Tunisian blogger and journalist Sufian Chourabi. “If there are daily protests, it will fall.”

Tuesday, the protesters fought running battles with police in the streets of central Tunis. Police appeared to be harsher today, firing teargas at some groups sooner than they had Monday. Though one large group gathered on Tunis’s main avenue, other smaller groups played a cat-and-mouse game with police, dispersing amid the stinging fumes and reassembling elsewhere.

Business continued to progress back to normal, with shops open and Tunisians going to and from work – though tanks remained in the streets and people hurried home well before the curfew began at 6 p.m.

Why protesters are suspicious of opposition

Protesters have yet to produce a leader after forcing Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on Friday following a month of protests that swelled and spread across the country, decrying rising unemployment and economic inequality, government corruption. Ben Ali's former party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), expelled him Tuesday.

But despite the president's departure, protesters say their demands are not being met by the new government that has left power in some of the same hands.

They also derided the opposition on Tuesday for participating in the unity government with old-guard figures, however. Crowds gathered in front of the headquarters of two of the main opposition parties, witnesses said, to demand the ministers resign from the unity government.

“People are thinking now, ‘You agreed to work with members of the old regime, so we don’t trust you any more,” says Mr. Chourabi. “We believed you all the way, and now we are suspicious about your credibility.”

Three of the ministers who resigned Tuesday came from Tunisia’s main trade union, which played an important part in the huge protest Friday that helped boot Ben Ali from power.

Ghannouchi a new target

It is unclear if the move by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and interim President Fouad Mebazaa to resign from the ex-president’s RCD party will placate the masses.

Though Ghannouchi has been described as a technocrat who didn’t attract the hatred directed at Ben Ali and was not seen as participating in the ex-president’s corruption, many of the protests in recent days have direct their anger at him.

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