Tunisia seeks to form unity cabinet after Ben Ali fall

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi (R) meets Tunisia's opposition left-wing Ettajdid (Renewal) party leader Ahmed Brahim. PM Ghannouchi has been discussing a possible unity cabinet with opposition leaders

Tunisian political leaders have started efforts to fill the power vacuum created by the fall of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali amid mass protests.

Interim leader Foued Mebazaa - who was sworn in on Saturday - promised to form a unity government.

Two days after Mr Ben Ali's flight, the country appears to be mostly quiet. A night time curfew has been eased.

The previous 24 hours had seen widespread violence, including looting, arson and deadly jail riots.

The head of Mr Ben Ali's presidential guard, Ali Seriati, has been arrested. State media say he is accused of fomenting violence and plotting against national security.

A state of emergency remains in force and there is very little economic activity. Schools, government offices and most shops are closed.

Election demand

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Tunis says the immediate future of the country, thrown into unprecedented turmoil, is in the hands of the military.

Mr Mebazaa, who until Saturday was the Speaker of parliament, has asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to form a national unity government.

"All Tunisians without exception and exclusion must be associated in the political process," Mr Mebazaa said in a televised address.

Opposition leader Najib Chebbi told France's RTL radio that he had held talks with Mr Ghannouchi on Saturday.

Tunisian men holding metal bars and sticks speak to a driver near Tunis on 15 January 2011. Some residents have formed impromptu militias to protect their homes

Mr Chebbi, who leads the Democratic Progressive Party, said his main demand was that elections should be held "within six or seven months" under international supervision.

Under the present Tunisian constitution a presidential election must be held within 60 days.

Another opposition figure, Ahmed Ben Brahim, head of centre-left Ettajdid (Renewal) party, has also held talk with Mr Ghannouchi - as has Mustafa Ben Jaafar of the Union of Freedom and Labour party, who afterwards called for "real reforms".

Further talks are being held on Sunday.

The exiled head of Tunisia's banned Islamist party, Rached Ghannouchi, said he would return to the country within weeks.

Speaking to the BBC in London, he said Tunisians had got rid of a dictator, but were a long way from bringing down the dictatorship.

Self-defence

On Sunday the interim authorities announced that the curfew was being eased because of the "improving security situation".

Fall from power

  • 17 Dec: Man sets himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid over lack of jobs, sparking protests
  • 24 Dec: Protester shot dead in central Tunisia
  • 28 Dec: Protests spread to Tunis
  • 8-10 Jan: Dozens of deaths reported in crackdown on protests
  • 12 Jan: Interior minister sacked
  • 13 Jan: President Ben Ali promises to step down in 2014
  • 14 Jan: Mr Ben Ali dissolves parliament after new mass rally, then steps down and flees
  • 15 Jan: Parliamentary Speaker Foued Mebazaa sworn in as interim president

Curfew hours - which ran from 1700 (1600GMT) to 0700 (0600GMT) for two nights - will now be between 1800 and 0500.

The centre of Tunis has been sealed off by troops guarding key public buildings.

Residents in some areas have armed themselves with sticks and clubs, forming impromptu militias to protect their homes.

A resident of Nabeul, south of Tunis, Haythem Houissa, told the BBC that he had joined a volunteer group "to help clean up and guard our city".

"The security situation is much better since yesterday," he added.

Some of the recent violence has been blamed on supporters of Mr Ben Ali.

However many attacks appeared to target businesses and buildings connected with the former president and his family.

A hospital source in Tunis told AFP news agency that Imed Trabelsi, the nephew of Mr Ben Ali's powerful wife, had been stabbed to death on Saturday.

Saturday's deadliest incident was in Monastir, about 160km (100 miles) south of Tunis, where fire swept though a prison, killing at least 42 people.

The leader of neighbouring Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, praised Mr Ben Ali, whom he said he still considered the "legal president of Tunisia".

"You have suffered a great loss... There is none better than Zine (Mr Ben Ali) to govern Tunisia," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

In the past month, protests have swept the country over unemployment, food price rises and corruption. Police used fired on protesters and dozens died.

Mr Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after the unrest culminated in a giant rally against him.

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