PM promises new Cabinet in troubled Tunisia

AP News
Posted: Mar 04, 2011 2:03 PM
PM promises new Cabinet in troubled Tunisia

Tunisia's new premier said Friday he will present a new Cabinet in coming days to help get beyond the renewed bout of violence in the North African country that led his predecessor to quit, and pull his country back from the "abyss."

Beji Caid-Essebsi's announcement is the latest step by Tunisia's interim leaders to stabilize the country after longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled amid protests in January _ sparking unrest across the Arab world.

Caid-Essebsi, 84, said his priorities would be re-establishing security, rebuilding Tunisia's suddenly troubled economy, and bring life back to normal in the country that has long been a tourist draw for sun-minded Europeans.

"We cannot delay, because we are on the edge of the abyss," said Caid-Essebsi, appearing to convey both determination and reassurance in his first news conference since taking up the post Sunday.

He said the new Cabinet would be announced in about two days.

Caid-Essebsi held government posts under Tunisia's two longtime leaders since it gained independence from France in 1956 _ Habib Bourguiba and Ben Ali _ but was unsparing in his criticism of Ben Ali.

He called Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 in the wake of weeks of deadly protests, a "deserter" and accused him of "high treason," a charge that could bring the death penalty under Tunisian law.

Caid-Essebsi, an elder statesman and former lawyer, took over Sunday after Mohamed Ghannouchi bowed out after 11 years as prime minister in the wake of weekend protests that left at least five people dead.

Many protesters viewed Ghannouchi as a top symbol of Ben Ali's old guard that protesters feared would hijack the revolution. Caid-Essebsi said security has improved since Ghannouchi's departure.

Six government ministers quit their posts this week, apparently trying to distance themselves from the caretaker government considered too close to Ben Ali's regime.

On Thursday, interim president Fouad Mebazaa announced elections for a body that will make a new constitution will be held July 24, a move that assuaged some protesters, who decided to end a sit-in that had gone on for the last two weeks in Tunis' Casbah citadel.