Tunisia arrests head of presidential guard, others

A tank guards the Mohamed avenue in Tunis, Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011. Tunisia swore in a new interim president on Saturday the second change of power in this North African nation in less than 24 hours and grappled with looting, deadly fires and widespread unrest after protests forced its longtime leader to flee. (AP Photo/Hedi Ben Salem)

TUNIS, Tunisia, Jan 16 (KATAKAMI.COM / AP) – Tunisian police arrested the head of the presidential guard Sunday and dozens of others suspected in drive-by shootings, trying to restore calm to the North African nation after the historic ouster of its longtime strongman.

Tunisians and observers worldwide were looking for signs about which way the country would turn as a new leadership sought to tamp down the looting, arson attacks and random violence since autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was driven from power Friday.

Police arrested the head of Ben Ali’s presidential guard, Ali Seriati, and several colleagues over accusations they had plotted against state security, the state news agency TAP reported Sunday. Other details were not immediately available, but security agents had often fired on unarmed protesters in the last month.

More than 50 people have been arrested since Saturday on suspicion of using ambulances, rental cars and civil protection vehicles for random shootings, a police official told The Associated Press. A crowd of 200 in central Tunis cheered Sunday as police drove away one ambulance and arrested its driver.

“Criminals are using ambulances to fire on people,” a police official in charge of security told the AP, showing his badge but declining to give his name.

Dozens of people have died in a month of clashes between police and protesters angry about the repression and corruption during Ben Ali’s rule — unrest that ultimately marked the end of his 23-year regime.

A soldier fired shots in the air Sunday near Tunis’ main train station — which had been turned into a blackened carcass — to warn that a gathering of more than three people is banned under the state of emergency law.

Police insisted that gunfire heard overnight was only the firing of warning shots. One soldier stationed near the train station said, “We are with the Tunisians, we are all brothers.”

A well-known human rights advocate returned home to the embattled — but in many ways, hopeful — country in the midst of an unprecendented power shift for the Arab world. Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights, arrived at Tunis’ airport and said her long-repressed countrymen appear poised for unprecedented freedoms.

AP/Christophe Ena

A day of violence Saturday cast doubt on hopes for a smooth transition to a post-Ben Ali era: Assailants attacked police near the Interior Ministry, and looting and score-settling attacks besieged wealthy neighborhoods, department stores and shops.

Businesses owned by Ben Ali’s family were major targets of looters. The family of the ex-president’s wife, Leila Trabelsi, has financial interests in wide-ranging sectors from banking to car dealerships. A branch of the Zeitouna bank in Tunis founded by Ben Ali’s son-in-law was torched, as were vehicles made by Kia, Fiat and Porsche — brands distributed in Tunisia by members of the ruling family.

Tunisians are especially overjoyed at the prospect of life without Ben Ali’s wife and her family. U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks discussed the high levels of nepotism and corruption displayed by her clan.

Tunisian media reported one brother-in-law of the president, Imed Trabelsi, was attacked by an angry mob at Tunis airport and died from his injuries. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.

Fouad Mebazaa, the former head of parliament’s lower house, was named interim president on Saturday and quickly ordered the creation of a national unity government that would include longtime opponents of Ben Ali. Elections must be held in 60 days.

“We can start to hope,” said a founder of the main opposition party, the Progressive Democratic Party, Nejib Chebbi. The question now, he said, is whether a new government will be pluralistic or again dominated by Ben Ali’s ruling RCD party. “If the RCD is dominant, we’re not out of the woods.”

The 74-year-old Ben Ali and some family members fled to Saudi Arabia. Other relatives were in France, but authorities said they were not welcome to remain.

Tunis’ airport reopened Saturday but a state of emergency continued. Thousands of tourists were being evacuated Sunday from the Mediterranean nation, whose wide beaches, deserts and ancient ruins are a strong draw for Europeans seeking relief from winter.

Street violence took a new form Saturday with roving gangs sacking homes in at least one wealthy neighborhood and residents, armed with golf clubs, forming self-styled vigilante committees.

Others worried about food shortages.

“This all happened in three days. Maybe tomorrow we can’t eat,” said Mohsen Yacoubi.

A Paris-based photojournalist, Lucas Mebrouk von Zabiensky, 32, of the EPA photo agency, died Sunday after being hit Friday in the face by a tear gas canister.

The downfall of Ben Ali, who had taken power in a bloodless coup in 1987, delivered a warning to other autocratic leaders in the Arab world.

The improved quality of life for many failed to keep up with the increased limits on civil rights like freedom of expression. The jobless rate is officially 14 percent, but is thought to be far higher among young who make up more than half of its 10 million people.

The self-immolation, and eventual death, of a 26-year-old university graduate selling fruits in central Tunisia last month triggered a series of protests that, relayed by social media like Facebook, spun into general anger against the regime. (*)

Israeli PM: Tunisia Reflects Regional Instability

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Sebastian Scheiner/Pool


Jerusalem, Jan 16 (KATAKAMI / Vosizneias.COM) – Israel’s Prime Minister says the unrest in Tunisia over the weekend shows why Israel must be cautious as it pursues peace with the Palestinians.

Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that the violence that followed the ouster of Tunisia’s longtime president illustrated the widespread instability plaguing the region.

He also says it underscores the need for strong security arrangements in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu says it’s not enough to “close our eyes” and sign a peace agreement. (*)

Tunisia Moves to Form New Coalition Government

Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazza was sworn in as interim president

Jan 16 (KATAKAMI.COM /VOA) — Tunisia’s acting leadership moved Sunday to form a coalition government, after the ouster last week of former strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled for 23-years.

Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazza was sworn in as interim president Saturday, a day after President Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Mebazza said he had asked the country’s prime minister to form a unity government.

The country’s constitutional council said new presidential elections should be held within 60 days.

There were reports of gunfire in Tunis Saturday, as police and army tanks patrolled city streets still littered with debris from overnight riots and looting.  But there was no sign of new violence Sunday.

Mr. Ben Ali fled the country following weeks of street demonstrations and rioting fueled by anger over a lack of jobs and official corruption.  He had served as Tunisia’s president for the past 23 years.

Activists in Egypt cheered Mr. Ben Ali’s ouster and said they hope the rebellion will inspire a similar movement challenging Egypt’s long-serving president, Hosni Mubarak.

The Egyptian government Saturday affirmed Egypt’s support for “the choices of the Tunisian people.”  The foreign ministry issued a statement saying Egypt is confident Tunisians will not allow the country to descend into chaos.

The Cairo-based Arab League issued its own a statement urging Tunisia’s political forces to show unity in order to keep the peace.

The African Union Peace and Security Council says it recognizes Parliamentary Speaker Mebazza as Tunisia’s interim leader.

And in France, Tunisia’s former colonial master, President Nicolas Sarkozy offered to support Tunisia’s democratic process.  (*)

British Foreign Secretary William Hague urges rapid return to law and order in Tunisia

William Hague

Jan 15 (KATAKAMI.COM / FCO.GOV.UK) — Foreign Secretary William Hague calls for restraint from all sides and an orderly move towards free and fair elections.

“I condemn the violence and call on the Tunisian authorities to do all they can to resolve the situation peacefully.  I am calling for a rapid return to law and order, restraint from all sides, an orderly move towards free and fair elections and an immediate expansion of political freedoms in Tunisia.

Our Embassy in Tunis is providing help and assistance to the UK citizens affected. Britons worried about travel to Tunisia should check the FCO’s travel advice, which is kept under constant review.

Our advice to concerned British Nationals is to follow developments closely and stay in touch with their tour operator. They should respect advice or instructions given by the local security authorities and tour operators and avoid rallies and demonstrations.”  (*)


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