Tunisian police arrest allies of ousted president
Demonstrators keep pressing for democracy
TUNIS — Police in Tunisia cracked down yesterday on key allies of the ousted president, placing two high-ranking officials under house arrest and detaining the head of a well-known private TV station for allegedly trying to slow down the country’s nascent steps toward democracy.
The measures against former cronies and supporters of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali came amid continued street protests in the North African country’s capital, Tunis, and efforts by the tenuous interim government to heed the incessant groundswell of opposition to his old guard.
Hundreds of protesters, many from Tunisia’s provinces south of the capital, rallied in Tunis to press on with demands that holdovers of Ben Ali’s repressive 23-year regime be kept out of power.
Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution’’ drove the iron-fisted Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 and sparked similar protests and civil disobedience across the Middle East and North Africa.
In Yemen yesterday, police arrested an activist for leading antigovernment protests, setting off a second day of street demonstrations in the capital, Sana. Police used tear gas and batons to disperse hundreds of students, activists, and lawmakers who demonstrated to demand the release of Tawakul Abdel-Salam Karman, who was arrested earlier in the day.
Yemen’s interior minister, Mouthar al-Masri, said on state television yesterday that people have the right to express their views but demonstrations, gatherings, and marches should be staged within the boundaries of the law.
Many observers are looking to see whether Tunisians can complete their fervent push for democracy, but the television station shutdown raised concerns about the new government’s promises to respect freedom of expression.
State news agency TAP reported that Larbi Nasri, the president of privately owned Hannibal TV, was arrested along with his son on charges of “high treason’’ and plotting against state security.
The station, which is the oldest private network in Tunisia, has become one of the country’s most popular channels mainly for its sports coverage and lively talk shows. It stopped its broadcast almost immediately after the arrest.
Nasri — who has family ties to Ben Ali’s widely despised wife, Leila Trabelsi — is accused of using his channel to “cause the revolution of the young to fail, sow chaos, incite disobedience, and broadcast information’’ aimed to hoodwink the public, TAP reported. The ultimate aim, its report said, was “to restore the dictatorship of the former president.’’
TAP also reported that former Ben Ali advisers Abdallah Kallel and Abdelaziz Ben Dhia have been placed under house arrest, and police are looking for a third man, Abdelwaheb Abdallah.
Kallel, the Senate president and a former government minister, was stopped from leaving the country after Ben Ali fled. A Geneva-based legal advocacy group, Trial, said torture was widespread in Tunisia while Kallel was interior minister in the early 1990s.
Ben Dhia is considered one of Ben Ali’s most influential advisers, and Abdallah was a top political adviser to the former president who kept tabs on communication, notably on Tunisia’s powerful state-run media.
Some Tunisians who have been protesting praised the house arrests.
“I started applauding and singing in the house when I heard the news,’’ said Leila Labidi, a 35-year-old teacher. “These men were like the right hands of Ben Ali . . . guiding him to more oppression of the people.’’
“It’s also proof that the people’s voice is being heard and our demands are being met slowly,’’ she added. “This is only the beginning. . . . The revolution won’t quiet until all of them are removed.’’
The demonstrators scattered throughout the capital — near the prime minister’s office, the finance and defense ministries, and a city office building — waving banners and photos of a young man who set himself on fire, triggering the uprising that ended Ben Ali’s rule. Later, hundreds of protesters broke a curfew and staged a sleep-in in front of the prime minister’s office.
“Bouazizi gave his life for his country,’’ read one banner honoring 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire in central Sidi Bouzid last month to protest harassment under Ben Ali.