Tunisian interim PM to appoint new government

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:02 PM
Tunisian interim PM to appoint new government

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's interim prime minister said on Friday he would appoint a new government in two days, the third caretaker administration since the overthrow of veteran leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

"In two days I will present my new government to the interim president," Beji Caid Sebsi told a news conference.

"Our priority is to restore the prestige of the state ... the priority is security," he added in his first public appearance since taking office earlier this week.

Tunisia has been struggling to restore stability since Ben Ali was toppled on January 14 by mass street protests and fled to Saudi Arabia.

Caid Sebsi, 84, was appointed after the previous interim prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, resigned on Sunday following protests over his close ties to Ben Ali and the slow pace of change.

Five ministers have stood down since then, leaving the caretaker government on the brink of collapse.

By appointing a new team, Caid Sebsi is seeking to assert his authority and see through a delicate transition in which Tunisians will elect a constituent assembly on July 24 to rewrite the constitution.

A source close to the president's office told Reuters that, once in place, a constituent council could appoint a new government or ask the caretaker administration to carry on until presidential and parliamentary elections were held.

In an attempt to distance his administration as much as possible from Ben Ali's 23-year rule, Caid Sebsi said the former president had committed treason by failing to guarantee stability and security to his people.

"He failed in his duty, and this is not a simple matter, and he left his country without a farewell. This I consider to be treason," he said.

He added the constituent assembly would be "a first step toward democracy" and that Tunisia's parliament, where Ben Ali's old guard still holds sway, was effectively dissolved.

The protests that led to Ben Ali's departure have provided an inspiration for uprising in other parts of the Arab world.

However, outbreaks of violence in North Africa's most developed state have added to the uncertainty of the post-Ben Ali era and put pressure on the interim authorities.

In a sign of how closely Tunisia's military is watching the transition, the chief of staff of the armed forces, Rachid Ammar, attended the prime minister's news conference.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Silvia Aloisi; editing by Andrew Dobbie)