BBC: Tunisia’s Opposition Ministers Quit New Goverment

Three ministers have withdrawn from the national unity government unveiled only a day ago in Tunisia. The three are from the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), which played a key role in protests which ousted the former president . PM Mohammed Ghannouchi angered many protesters when he kept several ministers from the former ruling party in their jobs.

Fresh protests are reported to have broken out across the country.

Mr Ghannouchi had hoped to placate protesters on Monday by announcing a government of national unity – which included members of the opposition but also retained members of the ruling RCD party in key ministerial positions. But some protesters had denounced the new administration as a betrayal. And now the junior transport minister, Anouar Ben Gueddour, has said he and two other ministers, Abdeljelil Bedoui and Houssine Dimassi, are leaving.

All three are members of the UGTT. The reason for the ministers’ change of heart was not immediately clear. However, one report said the UGTT had decided not to recognise the new government.

Fresh protests are reported to have broken out across the country. The BBC’s Lyse Doucet, in Tunis, says the smell of tear gas is once again in the air and there have already been clashes with riot police. But she says the protesters message is clear – they are holding placards reading the “RCD [incumbent party] must go!” – and that the protests seem unlikely to stop soon.

Earlier, Mr Ghannouchi defended the inclusion of members of the old regime in his new government, saying they had “clean hands” and and had always acted “to preserve the international interest”. He repeated pledges made on Monday of a new “era of freedom”, which would see political parties free to operate and a free press.

He said free and fair elections would be held within six months, controlled by an independent election commission and monitored by international observers. But while some protesters appeared ready to wait and see, others immediately described the new government as a sham.

Unrest in Tunisia grew over several weeks, with widespread protests over high unemployment and high food prices pitching demonstrators against Tunisia’s police and military. On Monday the government admitted 78 people had died in street clashes.

TIMELINE OF TUNISIAN REVOLT

  • 17 Dec: A graduate sets himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid over lack of jobs, sparking protests
  • 24 Dec: Protester shot dead in central Tunisia
  • 28 Dec: Protests spread to Tunis
  • 8-10 Jan: Dozens of deaths reported in crackdown on protests
  • 12 Jan: Interior minister sacked
  • 13 Jan: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali promises to step down in 2014
  • 14 Jan: Mr Ben Ali dissolves government and parliament, then steps down
  • 17 Jan: New unity cabinet announced
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