Tunisia disbands party of ousted president

AP News
Posted: Mar 09, 2011 5:49 PM
Tunisia disbands party of ousted president

A Tunisian court on Wednesday dissolved the party of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and ordered all its assets seized, demolishing a key symbol of his autocratic regime.

Pro-democracy activists cheered in the courtroom and sang the national anthem as the decision was announced to dismantle the Democratic Constitutional Rally, or RCD,

Protesters had demanded its dissolution since Ben Ali was driven from power on Jan. 14 following weeks of protests that led to uprisings across the Arab world.

Also Wednesday, official news agency TAP, citing an unidentified Justice Ministry source, reported the government has issued an arrest warrant for former Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem on allegations of murder. A former close ally of Ben Ali, Kacem has been under house arrest on allegations he had a role in violent repression that led to the death of some protesters in the waning days of the former regime.

Under Ben Ali, Tunisia was effectively a one-party state, and a quarter of the 10 million population was a member of the RCD. His regime quashed political dissent and independent media, while guaranteeing economic growth and a stability that drew foreign investment and European tourists in droves.

The protests in December and January changed all that, and the interim government is working now to try to calm unrest and dismantle remnants of the old guard. It's also struggling to handle waves of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in neighboring Libya.

The RCD party's activities were suspended after Ben Ali left, and on Wednesday a Tunis court formally dissolved it. On Monday, the new prime minister formed a new government and abolished a much-hated police force blamed for political repression.

Members of the interim government quit the RCD after Ben Ali's ouster, seeking to distance themselves from his era.

But some protests continued, with those on the streets demanding the dissolution of the party.

The lawyer arguing for its dissolution, Faouzi Ben Mrad, said the RCD had introduced measures since Ben Ali came to power in 1987 that led to "threats to the people's sovereignty and the transformation of the political regime of the country into a personalized and tyrannical regime."

He accused the party of being behind efforts to seed violence and unrest in the chaotic wake of Ben Ali's departure.

Defense lawyers argued that there was no evidence the party itself was responsible.

Meanwhile, the flow of refugees from Libya into Tunisia seems to be slowing.

The state news agency TAP said 1,800 refugees entered Tunisia on Monday, down from up to 12,000 a day before. A total of 105,000 refugees have crossed the border in recent weeks, it said, including Egyptians, Tunisians and Bangladeshis and many other nationalities.

The U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, and William Lacy Swing, the director of the International Organization for Migration, wrapped up a two-day visit to Tunisia on Wednesday to meet with officials and visit the border zone.

They proposed a joint action to evacuate refugees still stuck on the border, and warned that a "new massive exodus" could be awaiting because Libyan authorities have appeared to temporarily bottle up the refugee flow.

"The challenge is to act quickly to unblock the refugee camps and get them to their home countries as quickly as possible," said Swing, in Tunis. "The humanitarian crisis could become more complex and we have to be ready for a larger flow" of people.