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Tunisia dissolves state security police

Interim P.M. announces members of government, pledges to revive economy

TUNIS (AFP) ― Tunisia on Monday scrapped its feared political police and named a new interim government free of any members of the regime of toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Affirming a commitment “to apply the law and respect liberties and civic rights,” the interior ministry announced that it was abolishing the general directorate of public security.

The interim government has decided a “definitive break with any form of organization resembling the political police at the level of structure, mission or practice,” the ministry said in a statement.

Under Ben Ali, who ruled the north African country for 23 years, the directorate rounded up thousands of political dissidents.
A man from Ghana, who used to work in Libya and fled the unrest in the country, waits to be evacuated from a refugee camp at the Tunisia-Libyan border, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)
A man from Ghana, who used to work in Libya and fled the unrest in the country, waits to be evacuated from a refugee camp at the Tunisia-Libyan border, in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)

During the uprising that led to Ben Ali’s ouster on Jan.14, its forces unleashed a brutal crackdown that claimed 150 lives, according to the United Nations.

International rights groups have called for an investigation into the bloodletting.

Noureddine Bhiri, an official of Tunisia’s Islamist movement Ennahda, praised the elimination of the political police as “another positive step in the right direction,” adding however: “Now the justice system and the information sector need to be cleaned up.”

Dissident jurist Mokhtar Yahyaoui, for his part, said: “It’s a huge measure. I haven’t managed yet to imagine it, as it is very complicated, requiring reforms in the whole police system across the country.”

Yahyaoui, a founding member of the Association of Solidarity for Political Prisoners, recalled that he was under surveillance for 10 years and said: “I am well placed to say that it’s not easy to eliminate a system that has exercised power for decades.”

The dissident was under a travel ban from July 2001 and was fired in December 2004 after writing a letter to Ben Ali calling for independence of the north African country’s judiciary.

Also Monday, interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi announced a 22-member government, the third to be formed since Ben Ali’s ouster in an uprising that inspired demonstrations across the Arab world.

The so-called “public authority” includes five ministers, to replace ones who quit last week, and two women.

The new line-up returns 17 officials to posts they occupied in a government formed on January 27, with none of its members signed up to any political party.

All are technocrats expected to focus on reviving the economy.

The removal of figures from the Ben Ali regime was a key demand of protests that continued after the fall of the authoritarian leader, even though the new administration introduced unprecedented freedoms and released all political prisoners.

Protests against the previous interim government line-up flared late last month, leading the previous interim prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, to quit on Feb. 27 after a weekend in which six people died.

Ghannouchi, who had also been the head of Ben Ali’s government for 11 years, was a focus of the protests.

Two ministers who had also served Ben Ali quit the following day, followed by three more including from the opposition.

Meeting another demand of the protesters, interim President Foued Mebazaa last week announced an election on July 24 to choose an assembly to write a new post-revolution constitution.

Twelve political parties have meanwhile received official approval since the fall of Ben Ali, bringing the number in the country to 21.

And as the country’s authorities struggle to impose order following the revolution, they announced Sunday that nearly 2,000 people had been arrested in the past month including for assault and possessing illegal weapons.