Tunisia names new government, disbands Ben Ali security

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:35 PM
Tunisia names new government, disbands Ben Ali security

By Tarek Amara and Mariam Karouny

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's interim authorities on Monday named a new government and disbanded the feared state security notorious for human rights abuses under the country's ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Seeking to assert their authority and gain legitimacy in the eyes of protesters who forced Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14, the caretaker authorities are attacking one by one the remaining vestiges of his 23-year rule.

Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi unveiled a new cabinet of technocrats rather than career politicians tasked with seeing through a delicate transition in which Tunisians will elect a constituent assembly on July 24 to rewrite the constitution.

Shortly after the government line-up was announced, an interior ministry spokesman said Ben Ali's political police and state security apparatus had been dissolved -- a core demand behind the popular uprising.

"I can confirm that it was decided to terminate them. We will take other decisions that will please the people," he said. A branch of the interior ministry under Ben Ali, both internal state security organs functioned as a domestic spy agency and had wide powers to act against people deemed disloyal by the regime.

Its officers monitored opposition politicians and journalists, could arrest people randomly and were accused by rights groups of torturing detainees.

More recently, many demonstrators had complained state security agents were infiltrating their protests to stir up violence and trigger a backlash against the uprising.

"It is a dream come true for everyone," Ali Larayedh, a member of the moderate Islamist Ennahda movement which has just been allowed back on the political stage after a two-decade ban, told Reuters.

"People have suffered because of them. They wrecked politics, the media and the judiciary in this country," said Larayedh, who said he himself spent 14 years in prison for political reasons.

Tunisia has been struggling to restore stability since Ben Ali's departure nearly two months ago.

The protests that led to his ouster have provided the inspiration for uprisings in other parts of the Arab world, but outbreaks of violence have threatened to derail the north African country's transition toward democracy.

Caid Sebsi was appointed on February 27 after two previous caretaker administrations collapsed under street pressure, with demonstrators demanding that Ben Ali's old guard, such as former interim premier Mohamed Ghannouchi, be purged.

None of the ministers in the new cabinet will be allowed to stand in future elections.

(Writing by Silvia Aloisi, editing by Ralph Boulton)