Sat, Jan 22, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Tunisia counts cost of revolution

LIVES LOST:There were calls on Facebook for more demonstrations yesterday amid demands that the former ruling party be abolished and its senior members put on trial

AFP and Reuters, TUNIS

Mohammed Bouazizi’s cousin, Walid Bouazizi, prays on his cousin’s grave in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on Thursday. The self-immolation last month of Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old graduate forced to sell fruit and vegetables to make a living, prompted a wave of protest against the regime of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali that eventually toppled the government.

Photo: AFP

Tunisia yesterday began national mourning for victims of the “Jasmine Revolution” — a week after the ouster former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the Arab world’s first revolt in recent history.

Flags flew at half-mast and state television broadcast prayers from the Koran for the 78 people that officials say were killed when security forces began cracking down on a wave of social protests that began last month.

Committees set up by the country’s new leadership to organize democratic elections, investigate the repressions of the old regime and probe corruption allegations against the Ben Ali family were set to meet later yesterday

Meanwhile, there were calls on Facebook — which has been used to spread the word about the protests — for more demonstrations after Friday prayers yesterday.

About 400 people protested outside the headquarters of the state-owned Tunisian Transport Co, demanding the removal of senior officials from Ben Ali’s era.

“This company has corrupt people and it’s time to demand our rights. We’re not going to be silent about this. We want this minority out,” said an employee, who gave his name as Moftah.

Protests have continued in Tunisia even after Ben Ali’s ouster because of widespread resentment against the former ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), which has dominated the political scene for decades.

Many Tunisians are calling for the outright abolition of the RCD and want party members put on trial, but others say the revolution has gone far enough.

Some of the protesters managed to break into the RCD’s imposing headquarters in central Tunis on Thursday and tear down the party’s insignia.

“The people today are expecting and calling for a settling of scores,” the independent daily Le Quotidien said in an editorial yesterday.

A newspaper owned by a key old regime figure, Le Temps, said: “There has to be a middle way between a security and economic situation that is currently very fragile and the aspirations for freedom and democracy.”

Meanwhile, state television reported that weapons had been seized in the home of a member of Ben Ali’s family, with images showing sniper rifles, pistols and hunting rifles apparently buried in the garden of his villa.

Officials on Thursday said that 33 members of Ben Ali’s family had been arrested and the government approved a general amnesty bill that would free political prisoners and legalize previously banned political parties.

Banned political groups include the popular Islamist movement Ennahdha (Awakening), whose leader Rached Ghannouchi, exiled in London, was handed a life sentence by Ben Ali’s regime for plotting against the state.

A report from the World Gold Council on Thursday indicated Tunisia’s state coffers were missing 1.5 tonnes of gold, amid speculation that the ousted president and his wife had collected the ingots before fleeing to Saudi Arabia.

Tunisia had 6.8 tonnes of gold in December, a level unchanged for at least a decade, according to an online report issued last month by the World Gold Council, which is also in line with estimates issued by the IMF.

Tunisia’s central bank this week said it held about 5.3 tonnes, but dismissed reports that Ben Ali’s family had withdrawn the gold, saying the bank vaults were “under draconian security measures.”

In other developments, the interim government said schools and universities would reopen on Monday.

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