Fresh protests could bring down Tunisia's interim government

Members of the 'Liberation Caravan' say they will camp out in front of the prime minister’s office until the government accedes to their demands.

Zohra Bensemra/Reuters
Protesters from Tunisia's poor rural heartlands chant slogans during a demonstration by the Prime Minister's office in Tunis, Sunday. Protesters demonstrated in the capital to demand that the revolution they started should now sweep the remnants of the fallen president's old guard from power.

In an escalation of pressure against Tunisia’s interim unity government, more than 1,000 energetic protesters filled the square in front of the prime minister’s office Sunday to demand its ouster, waving flags and signs and chanting slogans against the government.

Residents of the capital joined hundreds from Tunisia’s interior -- the starting point of the revolt that eventually toppled the president on Jan. 14 -- to voice their anger that the new government includes many figures from the regime of ousted President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali.

The members of the “Liberation Caravan” say they will camp out in front of the prime minister’s office until the government accedes to their demands.

“We want democracy and dignity forever, not for just one or two years,” said Atef Bougadous, an unemployed young man who huddled exhausted on the cobblestones Sunday. He came 350 kilometers from Sidi Bouzid, the city where a young man set himself on fire in December in protest of rising unemployment and government corruption, starting the wave of protests that brought down Ben Ali. “We’re staying here until the government changes, no matter what. Anyone who dealt with Ben Ali has to go.”

Pressure mounts

The large protest increases the pressure on the unity government, which has only been in existence a week but has faced sustained calls for its dissolution.

Smaller demonstrations have been held throughout the week in the capital, but the large crowds Sunday, and the presence of citizens from outside the capital, bring into question whether the government will be able to hang on as it is.

In efforts to appease the people by distancing themselves from Ben Ali, the prime minister, the president, and all ministers from Ben Ali's RCD party resigned their membership in the party last week.

On Friday, Mr. Ghannouchi went on state television to announce that he would not seek to retain his post after elections are held, which are expected in six months. But these measures have not satisfied the protesters.

The ousted president fled to Saudi Arabia Jan. 14 after a month of protests rocked Tunisia.

On Sunday, the government announced it had placed two of his cronies under house arrest: Abdallah Kallal, leader of the Senate, and presidential advisor Abdel Aziz Ben Dhia. Officials also arrested the chief of one of Tunisia’s top television stations, accusing him of treason, and took the station off the air. The state news agency said Larbi Nasra of Hannibal TV was “was using his channel to stamp out the revolution of the young, sow chaos, incite civil disobedience and broadcast false information."

Urban and rural protesters unite

Back at the prime minister’s office, the chic urban citizens of the capital blended with the rural population of Sidi Bouzid in a united protest.

A middle-aged woman from Sidi Bouzid who wore humble clothes and a brown hijab, said the former RCD ministers must be removed from the government. “If a tooth is aching, you have to take it out,” she says. “They have to be taken away, no matter the process.”

Nearby, a young woman in fashionable clothes and blue eyeliner agreed. “I came here to defend the rights of all the people, and to defend against injustice,” she said.

Black spray paint on the walls of the government offices said “long live the people” and “death to the dictator.”

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