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Tunisia pins hopes on new rulers

A new Tunisian government formed yesterday pledged the most wide-ranging reforms in the country's history to try to end anti-government violence which brought down the president.

Opposition politicians will join the government, parties banned under president Ben Ali will be |allowed to operate and repressive laws of the past will be swept away, said the Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, who will lead the administration.

The country's media will be unshackled and there were reports that a prominent iconoclastic blogger will be appointed the minister of youth and sport.

Despite the setting up of the “national unity” coalition, three days after the authoritarian ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali had fled into exile, there were fresh clashes in the streets with protesters refusing to accept members of the old regime remaining in power.

Police fired live rounds, tear gas and used water cannon to break up a demonstration by around 1,000 people insisting the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), Mr Ben Ali's party, should be banned from holding office.

The demonstrators warned that their campaign will continue, chanting: “We may die, but the |Republic will live.”

The new government said that more than 78 protesters and other civilians have died in the protests, which have swept the country for a month. Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa said 94 civilians have been injured. Members of the security forces have also been killed, but he did not say how many.

Many of those on the rallies yesterday were older and from professional backgrounds. Tuoufi Tawil, a mergers and acquisitions manager, said: “We now have the Third Republic and its principles are freedom, democracy and tolerance. The RCD does not believe in any of these.”

Some opposition political leaders also condemned the formation of the new government which will stay in charge until fresh elections are held in 60 days time.

Moncef Marzouki, of the centre-left Congress for the Republic, currently in exile in Paris, has announced that he will be a presidential candidate.

But, he said yesterday: “The new government is a farce. The three opposition parties have already functioned under the Ben Ali system and all the real forces that represent the country have been excluded. Under this system the interior ministry will remain under the Ben Ali people.”

Mr Ben Ali's appointees will stay in other major ministries, including defence, foreign and finance. However, Najib Chebbi, founder of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party, will become the Minister for Regional Development. Two other senior opposition members will also get the posts of higher education and health.

Sidi Amamou, a blogger with a strong youth following, is expected to lead a revamped youth and sport department and a new governor, Mustapha Kamel Nabli, will become the head of the country's central bank which, it has been reported, allowed Mr Ben Ali's wife, Leila Trabelsi, to withdraw 1.5 tons of gold from its reserves before fleeing with her husband.

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