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Tunisia govt reviews tense security situation

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TUNIS — The new interim government met Tuesday to review Tunisia’s tense security situation as the United Nations said 210 people died in the popular revolt that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

It was the first meeting of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi’s government since it was reshuffled on January 27.

A government source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was focusing on security developments around the country, including disturbances in the central town of Kasserine, where public buildings were ransacked and looted Monday.

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The source said a lifting of the a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed January 13 appeared premature as “the situation is not yet stabilized”.

Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in Kasserine to press authorities to end the wave of violence and punish hooligans who looted public buildings Monday, residents said.

Several officials of the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) said the violence was instigated by members of Ben Ali’s former RCD ruling party. There was not independent confirmation of the allegation.

The officials condemned what they see as a destabilisation campaign by the transitional administration set up after Ben Ali’s fall on January 14.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after weeks of violent protests against his 23-year autocratic rule.

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Meanwhile, arsonists set fire to a synagogue in the southern Gabes region, a leader of the local Jewish community said Tuesday.

“Someone set fire to the synagogue on Monday night and the Torah scrolls were burned,” Trabelsi Perez told AFP, criticising the lack of action by the security services to stop the attack.

In Tunis, the head of a UN human rights mission said Tuesday that 219 people were killed and 510 injured during the popular revolt that led to Ben Ali’s ouster.

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Bacre Ndiaye told a press conference that 147 people had been killed since the popular revolt began in mid-December while another 72 had died in the country’s jails.

The head of the UN mission made it clear that these figures were not final and said the world body was continuing its investigations.

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The previous UN death toll for the Tunisian anti-government uprising was “at least 100 dead.”

Late last month, Tunisian authorities put the death toll from the uprising at 74, including 48 people who died in a jail in the central town of Monastir.

The UN mission, which arrived in Tunisia January 27, was able to inspect two jails in Bizerte, northwest of here, and reported that they were now back to normal after they were the scene of disturbances that included inmates’ escapes, fires and bloody clashes, Ndiaye said.

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“The Tunisian state was a police state. There were abuses by the security apparatus which must be throughly reformed. The security system must work for the people, not against,” he added.

Ndiaye however insisted that relatives of Ben Ali “have the same rights as other Tunisians”.

“The children (of the Ben Ali clan) must not pay for their parents,” he stressed,

Tuesday the Interior Ministry also sent 30 senior police officers into early retirement for their conduct during the Ben Ali years, a police official speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.

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The interim government is also grappling with another headache: growing discontent among the police force nationwide over pay and working conditions.

Police in the cities of Sousse, Kairouan and Bizerte went on strike Monday to be allowed to set up a union.

In Sousse, they called on the government to expel “former mafiosos” from the force and “to improve the police’s image in the media.”

A strike by ground staff also disrupted traffic at Tunis airport Monday but the situation appeared to be back to normal Tuesday.

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In the cabinet reshuffle late last month, several old regime figures were removed from key posts including the defence, finance, foreign and interior ministries, but Ghannouchi and two other ex-Ben Ali allies remained in the cabinet.

The 69-year-old prime minister — a holdover from the Ben Ali regime who has been in office since 1999 — has promised to hold democratic elections within six months.


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