Thu, Feb 03, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Tunisian minister warns of ‘conspiracy’

SECURITY SHAKE-UP:The interior ministry replaced 34 senior officials on Tuesday, while gangs rampaged through schools in Tunis and Carthage, terrorizing students

Reuters, TUNIS

Tunisia’s new interior minister said some members of the security forces were in a “conspiracy” to undermine the state, after a wave of violence including the burning of a synagogue and an attack on the ministry itself.

Gangs rampaged through schools in the capital on Tuesday, prompting the army to fan out to calm fears of chaos after the revolt that toppled former Tunisian president Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali.

Major street protests have dried up in Tunisia in recent days, after a reshuffle purged the interim government of most Ben Ali loyalists and appeased public opinion.

However, sporadic acts of intimidation and sabotage have broken out after weeks of protests forced Ben Ali to flee the country on Jan. 14, ending 23 years of strict police rule.

Tunisian Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi said on Tuesday some of the violence was part of an organized plot, after what he said was an attack by a 2,000-strong group on the Interior Ministry.

“These people who came yesterday to the ministry ... are the same people who went out today to scare people,” Rajhi told privately owned Hannibal TV. “There is a conspiracy against state security and there is a conspiracy in the security forces.”

Rajhi’s comments came after gangs rampaged through schools in the capital on Tuesday, terrorizing students. The army also fired in the air in Carthage to disperse gangs that stormed two schools, witnesses said.

Peres Trabelsi, the spokesman for Tunisia’s Jewish community, said he did not know who was behind the attack on the synagogue in the southern city of Gabes.

“I condemn this action and I believe those who did it want to create divisions between Jews and Muslims in Tunisia who have lived for decades in peace,” Trabelsi said.

The situation was partly aggravated by a police strike that began on Monday, but a deal was reached on Tuesday allowing security forces to set up a union to protect their rights.

Tunisia’s interior ministry also replaced 34 senior security officials, a first step to overhauling the network of police, security forces and spies built up by Ben Ali over two decades.

Among those replaced were the head of national security, the head of general security and the head of presidential security, key positions under the old regime of Ben Ali.

Rajhi said he had sacked the national security chief because he had not followed orders in clearing out protesters camped outside government offices on Saturday. He questioned why no one was arrested following the attack on his own ministry on Monday.

Rajhi also said that the former interior minister who led the crackdown on the uprising that toppled Ben Ali had been arrested and was being questioned.

Several political parties as well as the country’s powerful labor union, whose offices have also been attacked, urged the government to bring the security situation under control to prevent the vacuum being exploited by Ben Ali loyalists.

The interior minister’s comments came hours after a UN human rights official said Tunisia’s security forces must be overhauled to stop them from working against the people as they did during the uprising, in which 147 people were killed.

Bacre Waly Ndiaye, leading an eight-member team sent to Tunisia by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference that 510 people had been wounded during the weeks of protests that began on Dec. 17.

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