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Tunisia begins three-day mourning for protest victims

Protesters demand end to links with former ruling party.

January 21, 2011 1:38 by

Tunisians began three days of national mourning on Friday for the dozens of people killed during protests before and after the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Around 400 people protested outside the headquarters of the state-owned Tunisian Transport Company, demanding the removal of senior officials from Ben Ali’s era.

An employee, who gave his name as Moftah, said: “This company has corrupt people and it’s time to demand our rights. We’re not going to be silent about this. We want this minority out.”

The interim government, which took over after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last week in the face of widespread popular unrest, said schools and universities would reopen on Monday.

Mohamed Aloulou, minister for youth and sport, told reporters after a cabinet meeting on Thursday that sporting events, also on hold since last week, would resume “very soon”.

The government says at least 78 people have been killed since the start of Tunisia’s uprising, while the United Nations has put the toll at around 100.

The new government, which faces street protests for retaining members of the deposed president’s cabinet, offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including the banned Islamist opposition.

Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during Ben Ali’s 23-year rule had been released.

“We are in agreement for a general amnesty,” said Higher Education Minister Ahmed Ibrahim, an opposition party leader who joined the coalition after Ben Ali’s removal.

Tunisian newspapers focused on the need for political progress after the dissolution of the former ruling RCD party’s political bureau on Thursday and the granting of freedom for other parties to operate.

“We can’t deny that there are honest and patriotic people inside this party,” daily La Presse said. “They must renew the healthy and politically tolerant elements of a party that was formed by the struggle for independence (from France).”

“The new political arena with many parties is a Tunisian dream that has been realised, but it will only be complete when they have clear and practical programmes for national development,” said the daily al-Sahafa.

Tunisian state TV showed pictures of weapons being removed from the homes of Ben Ali family members. “This shows the excesses of this family,” it said.

Ben Ali fell after weeks of unrest spurred by anger over poverty, unemployment and repression. It was the first genuinely popular uprising to topple a Middle Eastern leader since the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

The prime minister and caretaker president are both veteran former RCD members who quit the party this week. Protesters have kept up pressure for a government free of ties with Ben Ali and the old guard.

Other ministers in the interim government have resigned from the RCD in an attempt to restore credibility after four opposition ministers quit the cabinet in protest.

(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by David Stamp)

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