Allies of Tunisia's ousted president Ben Ali 'detained'

Former President Senate Abdallah Qallal. Photo: 15 January 2011
Image caption Abdallah Qallal was a key ally of ex-President Ben Ali

Tunisian police have detained two politicians close to ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Mr Ben Ali's former adviser Abdelaziz bin Dhia and former Interior Minister Abdallah Qallal are now under house arrest, state media have reported.

Meanwhile, the owner of a private TV station has reportedly been arrested for "treason" for encouraging violence.

The news came as a protest march against the interim government reached the capital Tunis.

Protesters want the prime minister, who served under Mr Ben Ali, to resign.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has pledged to quit after elections, which are expected within six months.

On Sunday night, hundreds of people broke a curfew to continue their protest camped outside Mr Ghannouchi's office.

Gold and jewellery

Tunisia's state media announced the arrests of the two political allies of the former president on Sunday, without providing further details.

Image caption Protesters have not been satisfied by the prime minister's pledge to quit after elections

The media also said that the police were searching for Abdelwahhab Abdalla - another former adviser to Mr Ben Ali.

Last week, some 33 members of Mr Ben Ali's family were arrested as they tried to leave the country.

State TV showed what it said was gold and jewellery found during raids on the their properties.

It is not known which family members of Mr Ben Ali - who has fled to Saudi Arabia - have been held.

The state news agency also reported on Sunday that the owner of the private station, Hannibal TV, had been arrested along with his son for "treason" by encouraging violence and working for the return of Mr Ben Ali.

Larbi Nasra, "who is a relative of the former president's wife, is using the channel to abort the youth's revolution, spread confusion, incite strife and broadcast false information," a statement citing an authorised source said.

'Clean hands'

On Sunday, a new protest march reached Tunis.

Some 1,000 demonstrators from Menzel Bouzaiane - the rural area where protests against Tunisia's authoritarian rule began in December - had joined the "Caravan of Liberation" to the capital.

The main trade union, the General Tunisian Workers' Union (UGTT), has backed the protest, which set off on Saturday.

"The aim of this caravan is to make the government fall," said Rabia Slimane, a teacher taking part in the caravan protest.

Mr Ghannouchi has left Mr Ben Ali's ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) party and insisted that figures from the previous regime who have remained in positions of power - including the ministers of defence, interior, finance and foreign affairs - have "clean hands".

But this has failed to satisfy many opposition figures and protesters.

The official death toll during the unrest leading to Mr Ben Ali's flight was 78, though the UN says more than 100 people died. Authorities have promised to investigate the deaths of protesters.

A final day of mourning is being observed on Sunday for those killed.

There is speculation that the Tunisian unrest - which has been driven by economic grievances and resentment about political repression - could spread to other countries.

In Algeria, police broke up an anti-government demonstration on Saturday by about 300 protesters calling for greater freedoms. There were also protests in Yemen against the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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