TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia's caretaker government has ordered an overnight curfew for the capital and nearby areas, following three days of renewed protests over fears that the country's efforts at democracy are in jeopardy.
The interior and defense ministries, in a statement relayed by the state news agency, said the curfew for the "Grand Tunis" region started Saturday and will run from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. nightly.
The move, after three days of clashes between hundreds of angry protesters and riot police, marked the interim government's effort to bring order back to Tunisia after massive street upheaval brought down the 23-year regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January — in a "Jasmine Revolution" that sparked similar unrest across the Arab world.
The new curfew harkened back to similar measures instituted by Ben Ali's regime before it fell — part of a failed attempt to quiet the uprising in the streets.
The interim government ordered the new curfew "following acts of violence and pillage, and attacks on public and private goods" that took place Friday and Saturday, state news agency TAP reported.
Also Saturday, TAP reported that President Fouad Mebazaa stripped former Interior Minister Fahat Rajhi from his post as head of Tunisia's High Commission on Human Rights.
Rajhi, a former jurist, sparked surprise in government circles with a video posted on Facebook that warned that the army could be preparing to seize power if an Islamist party wins upcoming elections in July.
Rajhi, while serving as interior minister for less than two months after the fall of Ben Ali, took legal steps that led to the dissolution of the reviled political police — one of the top instruments of repression of the old regime.
The government and several political parties called Rajhi's remarks irresponsible at a time when Tunisia was in a crucial and delicate phase of its move toward democracy.
The comments helped fan the three days of protests. On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators protested outside the Interior Ministry, shouting anti-government slogans to convey fears that democracy is under threat.
As in previous days, police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters. At the earlier protests, some journalists were roughed up, and their equipment seized, prompting the interior minister to apologize for such "abuses" and to pledge an investigation to find those responsible.
Earlier Saturday, a Tunis court convicted a nephew of Leila Trabelsi, Tunisia's widely reviled former first lady, on drug consumption charges, said a top human rights lawyer.
Imad Trabelsi was sentenced to two years in prison and a 2,000 dinar (about euro1,000) fine, according to Mokhtar Trifi, president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights.
The conviction marked the second of a member of former Ben Ali's extended family since he fled Tunisia in January amid the protests. One of Leila Trabelsi's brothers, Mohamed Naceur Trabelsi, was sentenced to two months in prison and fined 45 million dinars (about $32 million) in March for two customs infractions linked to his clothing business.