Allies of deposed president removed from Tunisia's transitional government

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ALLIES OF Tunisia’s deposed president were removed from key posts in the interim government last night, but prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said he would stay on to prepare for free elections in six months.

In a reshuffle aimed at mollifying protesters who have objected to the retention of senior ministers from Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime, 12 ministers have been replaced.

Among them are all members of Mr Ben Ali’s RCD party, including the interior and defence ministers.

“This government is a transitional, interim government that will remain until it completes its mission of taking the country to democracy,” Mr Ghannouchi said in a live television address.

He said the new cabinet had been agreed after consultations with all political parties and civil society groups and the ministers had been chosen for their high levels of experience and qualifications.

Protesters have held daily demonstrations in cities across Tunisia for the past 10 days to demand the removal of the old guard from Tunisia’s unity coalition. Four opposition figures resigned from the cabinet within 24 hours of their appointment last week when it emerged that the RCD had held onto key portfolios such as interior, defence and foreign affairs.

Although Mr Ghannouchi himself is widely seen as a technocrat whose brief as prime minister over the past decade was largely limited to economic affairs, he was a member of the RCD until last week and has become the focus of protesters’ ire. By removing all other ministers with RCD connections last night, he will hope his own presence in the interim cabinet can be accepted by the demonstrators.

In what would be a significant boost to the coalition, it was reported last night that Tunisia’s main trade union, which has a wide membership and played an important role in the protest movement, would give its support to the new cabinet.

The interim cabinet is tasked with managing the transition to free elections in six months. In a further gesture towards those demanding a clean break with Mr Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime, Mr Ghannouchi also said those elections would be organised by an independent body and monitored by international observers.

Earlier yesterday, thousands of demonstrators thronged Bourguiba Avenue, the main boulevard in the capital, Tunis, demanding that the government resign.

They also broke through police lines outside the prime minister’s office in the old city, where hundreds of demonstrators had pledged to camp out until the government resigned.

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