Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ousted Tunisian leader Ben Ali's family 'arrested'

19 January 2011 Last updated at 17:58 ET

Protesters confront police in Tunis. 19 Jan 2011 Protesters want the unity government to exclude members of Mr Ben Ali's RCD party

Some 33 members of ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's family have been held, state TV says.

It said that they were arrested as they tried to leave the country.

In a televised speech, interim leader Fouad Mebazaa vowed a "total break" with the past, an independent justice system and media freedoms.

In a separate development, the new government said it had freed all political prisoners. The reported move comes after weeks of mass protests.

More than 100 people have reportedly died in the unrest, the UN said, promising to carry out an investigation.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets again in the Tunisian capital Tunis, urging allies of the ousted president to stop clinging to power.

Waving banners and chanting, they called for all links to the old regime to be severed.

However, riot police did not respond with tear gas or water cannons, the BBC's Wyre Davies in Tunis reports.

While the situation remains tense, curfew hours have been reduced, traffic on the streets is increasing, political cartoons have appeared in the newly free press and some shops and businesses are reopening, our correspondent says.

"I guarantee that this transition government will ensure a total break with the past," Mr Mebazaa said on Wednesday.

“Start Quote

All the people who came to this unity government will resign if the elections are not free and fair or the measures we have decided on are not carried out immediately”

End Quote Najib Chebbi Unity government minister

"Together we can write a new page in the history of our country."

In his first address to the nation since Mr Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Mr Mebazaa also thanked the army for helping to maintain security, saying that the situation was returning to normal.

"We have discovered those responsible for the terror in our country. We have arrested these armed gangs."

He added that the priority for the new government would be to issue an amnesty for all political prisoners.

Najib Chebbi, an opposition leader who is now a member of the new cabinet, and Mustapha Ben Jafar, one of several new ministers who dropped out of the unity government, were both quoted by news agencies as saying that all the political prisoners were released on Wednesday.

They said these included members of a banned Islamist movement.

Separately, Tunisia's state news agency TAP said that the first of more than 1,800 prisoners who had been sentenced to less than six months were already being released.
Private jet

As the political turmoil continues, Tunisia's national unity cabinet is reported to have postponed its first meeting.


* Mohammed Ghannouchi stays on as prime minister; a Ben Ali ally, he has been in the job since 1999, keeping his post throughout the unrest
* Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa, appointed by Mr Ben Ali to mollify demonstrators, retains post
* Foreign Minister Kamal Morjane retains post
* Najib Chebbi, founder of opposition Progressive Democratic Party, named as development minister
* Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of opposition Ettajdid party, named minister of higher education
* Mustafa ben Jaafar, leader of opposition Union of Freedom and Labour, named health minister but refused to take office
* Slim Amamou, prominent blogger who was arrested during protests, becomes secretary of state for youth and sport

Ministers in the new interim government are currently discussing how to resolve deep divisions over the inclusion in key posts of members of the former government.

Mr Chebbi told the BBC's Hardtalk programme he would resign if a free election failed to materialise within seven months.

"All the people who came to this unity government will resign if the elections are not free and fair or the measures we have decided on are not carried out immediately."

Mr Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday following a spate of violent protests across Tunisia over unemployment, poverty and corruption.

Four opponents of Mr Ben Ali resigned from the new unity government within a day of being appointed, in protest at the number of ministers from the old regime who were still included.

In Geneva, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey announced a decision to freeze any funds of Mr Ben Ali held there.

Ms Calmy-Rey said Bern acted to prevent assets being withdrawn and also to ensure that a new Tunisian administration would be able to retrieve assets taken illicitly.

The ban also applies to any assets held by "his entourage", the foreign ministry said in a statement.

A Swiss judicial source told Reuters news agency that an association of Tunisians living in Switzerland had sought the freezing of assets including a building on Geneva's exclusive Rue du Rhone and a Falcon 9000 jet said to be at Geneva airport.

In other developments on Wednesday, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, linked the upheaval in Tunisia to deteriorating economic conditions throughout the Arab world.

"The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession," he said at the opening of an Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.


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