Tunisia’s rocky road ahead of presidential elections

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Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi is prepared to implement a new national unity government which includes members of legal opposition parties, as Tunisians complain of increased violence and worsening shortages of such rudiments as milk, bread and fresh fish.

After installing Fouad Mebazaa, President of the Tunisian Parliament, as the new interim president of Tunisia, following the Constitutional Council’s Saturday decision to fill “the permanent power void” subsequent to President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s flight last Friday, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi says he is prepared to implement a new national unity government which includes members of legal opposition parties.

Abiding by the provisions of Article 57 of the Tunisian Constitution, the interim president was announced by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi who had invoked article 56 of the Constitution citing “temporary inability” of the president to be at the helm of affairs in Tunisia. Soon after his installment, Fouad Mebazaa Mebazaa is reported to have urged Prime Minister Ghannouchi to create a national unity government and also consult with the opposition, who had been marginalized under Ben Ali.

Presidential elections are to be held in 60 days as required by the country’s Constitution. After calling for peace in Tunisia, France said in a statement last Saturday that it was ready “to respond to any request for assistance in order for the democratic process to take place in the most indisputable manner”.

The pressure to sort out a new government in the North African nation comes as Tunisians hover the streets of the capital city of Tunis for food as most shops remained closed. People patrolled the streets armed with bats, sticks and golf clubs in both wealthy and working-class neighborhoods, with some reportedly looting.

Ben Ali Militias

The pressure in Tunis was also heightened after the army and members of the newly appointed presidential guard fought off attacks from militias loyal to ousted President Ben Ali, around the presidential palace on Sunday in Carthage. The Associated Press revealed that the pro- Ben Ali militia had emerged from a forest to charge using various kinds of arms. The gun battle lasted about four hours before calm returned in the evening.

Residents in Carthage told reporters they had barricaded themselves inside their homes amid the shootings between police and Ben Ali loyalists. The respite from ousting autocratic Ben Ali has since been soured by violent incidents and increasing shortages of basic necessities across the country. Reports say that over 50 people had also been arrested on suspicion of using ambulances, rental cars and government vehicles for random shootings.

Nonetheless, police and the army have arrested numerous members of armed groups including  the security chief, Ali Seriati, and his deputy who were charged with a plot against state security, aggressive acts and for “provoking disorder, murder and pillaging. “The coming days will show who is behind them. Arms and documents have been seized from those arrested. We won’t be tolerant towards these people,” Ghannouchi was quoted as saying.

While the city of Tunis remains under a state of emergency, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali has finally found refuge in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with his wife after he was refused political asylum in France. A few days earlier, his three daughters had fled to Canada.

The demonstrations that ended the Ben Ali regime began after a 26 year old greengrocer, Mohammed Bouazizi, committed suicide on December 17 in a desperate attempt to protest against the confiscation of his produce by the authorities. Houcine Neji, a second young man, was killed on December 22 when he climbed an electric pole to protest against the harsh unemployment.

The ensuing revolt spread like wildfire to the city of Bouziane, south of the capital Tunis, Kasserine, in the west, and finally to Tunis and its suburbs. The new “Jasmine Revolution”, a term employed by the former President Ben Ali on his accession to power in 1987, has caused at least 67 deaths.

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