|Shi’ite Muslims in Bahrain demonstrated against the government Sunday. Protests yesterday called for greater support from Washington. (Adam Jan/ AFP/ Getty Images)|
Tunisia sets interim government
TUNIS — Tunisia’s prime minister named a new interim government yesterday and a much-hated police unit was disbanded as the interim leadership of this North African nation seeks to stabilize a country still finding its way after a popular revolt.
Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi kept the heads of the key defense, interior, justice, and foreign affairs ministries, but named new figures to six posts vacated last week. Some ministers who left were seen as too close to the regime of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Others who resigned hope to run for office and were forced out.
Caid Essebsi reiterated that his priorities are reestablishing security, rebuilding Tunisia’s troubled economy, and bringing life back to normal in the country that has long been a tourist draw for Europeans. “Without security, there is no development and investors won’t come back,’’ he said.
Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced on its Facebook page that it has abolished the dreaded State Security Department, whose so-called political police spied on and harassed citizens under Ben Ali.
Its disbanding has been one of the demands of the prodemocracy activists who have kept up the pressure on the interim leadership as it seeks to navigate the country into a new era. The Jan. 14 uprising that ousted Ben Ali in turn sparked revolts around the Arab world.
By making the announcement on Facebook, the ministry was also sending a statement to the protesters. Under Ben Ali, Tunisian authorities suppressed independent media and political dissent, but antigovernment movements mobilized on social networking sites to stage demonstrations in December and January. Many protests turned deadly, as police fired on crowds.
The new Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, a US-educated civil engineer, is expected to be met with the approval of the proreform groups that led the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to step down on Feb. 11.
The caretaker government’s main job and challenge will be to help steer the country through reforms and toward free elections.
The embassy said staff met with the protesters and reiterated the Obama administration’s commitment to the “partnership with the government and the people of Bahrain.’’ The statement also urged the parties to begin talks but said they will only be successful if they “lead to concrete actions and reforms.’’
The opposition supporters claimed that Washington is showing less support for the revolt in Bahrain than it did for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
The protesters are staging daily marches in an effort to end what they say are the Sunni royal family’s discriminatory policies and political persecution of Shi’ites.
The seizure of Toulepleu on Sunday extends the gains made by the rebel army, which earlier had seized another town, Zouan-Hounien. Both towns were controlled by Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to cede power even though the country’s election commission declared opposition leader Alassane Ouattara the winner of the Nov. 28 vote.
Gbagbo announced on state TV that the government will now be the only entity authorized to buy or sell coffee and cocoa, the country’s two main exports. The move to nationalize the cocoa and coffee sectors comes as financial sanctions begin to take effect against the rogue leader.
The state news agency said the conference will be held Thursday. Yemen’s opposition, however, swiftly rejected the call.