June 19, 2013
Tunisia government to lift political ban, police fire shots
Tunisia's new government, faced with violent street protests for retaining members of the deposed president's cabinet, offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups including the banned Islamist opposition.
The pledge came in the ruling coalition's first cabinet meeting. Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during the 23-year rule of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had been released.
"We are in agreement for a general amnesty," said Higher Education Minister Ahmed Ibrahim, an opposition party leader who joined the coalition after Ben Ali's ouster.
Asked if the amnesty would include people jailed for membership of Ennahda, an opposition Islamist movement that was repressed by Ben Ali's security services, Ibrahim told reporters: "Yes, of course, everybody will be part of this amnesty."
The announcement followed another day of protests, with police firing shots into the air to try to disperse hundreds of demonstrators demanding that ministers associated with the rule of Ben Ali leave the government.
The protesters, who gathered outside the Tunis headquarters of the RCD, Tunisia's ruling party for several decades, refused to move back when police fired shots from behind a metal fence.
There were also protests in other towns across Tunisia.
Protesters on Mohamed V Avenue near the centre of Tunis chanted: "After Ben Ali and his wife, we want to bring down his thieves!" They also burned the logo of the party and carried banners saying: "Government out!"
One of the protesters, who gave his name as Aymen, said: "We are here, we are not going to move until the RCD falls. We will come every hour and every day."
At the RCD headquarters, workmen were removing the large plaque from the outside of the building bearing the party's name, a reporter said.
A military officer guarding the building told the crowd: "Translate this as you wish: the RCD is going away."
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after weeks of unrest spurred by anger over poverty, unemployment and repression. The first popular revolt in generations to topple an Arab leader, his downfall sent shockwaves through the Arab world.