Tunisia's president appoints new prime minister
TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia's interim president chose a former government minister as a new prime minister on Sunday, appealing for a return to calm following new violent protests that have been hobbling this North African country since the ouster of its long-time autocratic leader.
Beji Caid-Essebsi will replace Mohammed Ghannouchi, who resigned earlier Sunday after becoming a major irritant to Tunisians behind the so-called "Jasmine Revolution" that toppled autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month and sparked a wave of upheaval in the Arab world.
The caretaker president, Fouad Mebazaa, made the appointment later Sunday.
As Ben Ali's prime minister for 11 years, Ghannouchi became the emblem of an entrenched old guard that many Tunisians feared were hijacking their revolution.
It was not immediately clear how much the shake-up would mollify the protesters in Tunisia, at a time when its leaders are attempting to rebuild its tourism industry and cope with an influx of Tunisians and others fleeing from violence in neighboring Libya.
The change in the government's leadership follows renewed street protests. Officials said that at least five people have died in violent street protests since Friday.
Ghannouchi had previously vowed to stay on to guide Tunisia until elections could be organized this summer.
As he stepped down, Ghannouchi sought to take the high ground.
"This (resignation) is not a flight from my responsibilities, but to open the way for another prime minister who — I hope — will have more margin for action than I have had, to give hope to the Tunisian people," he said.
"I am not ready to be the man of repression, and I will never be," Ghannouchi said, warning that unspecified forces appeared to be swelling to try to quash the move toward democracy.
Caid-Essebsi is an elderly statesman and lawyer who served in government posts under the Tunisia's two longtime leaders since it gained independence from France in 1956: Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali.
Ben Ali was driven from power on Jan. 14 and fled to Saudi Arabia following weeks of a deadly popular uprising that has fanned similar upheaval across the Arab world.
Some Tunisians believe that Ben Ali loyalists in the country have sought to sow discord and discredit the movement that brought the former authoritarian leader down.
"There needs to be reconciliation among all Tunisians to show the world that Tunisia is a civilized country," Ghannouchi said. "My resignation will help create this new atmosphere."
The Interior Ministry, in a statement Saturday, blamed "provocateurs" for fomenting violence in otherwise peaceful rallies and for allegedly using young people as human shields in renewed demonstrations.
On Saturday, police and troops backed by tanks used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths protesting against the caretaker government. Officers were seen chasing some youths through town after the rally ended.
Authorities then ordered a temporarily ban on vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the capital's central Bourguiba Avenue until midnight Sunday — the first of its kind since Ben Ali's downfall.
On Friday, police fired tear gas and warning shots as violence erupted alongside a sit-in that drew tens of thousands of protesters near the seat of the interim government.
Officials said nearly 200 people were arrested over the last two days.