Africa

Tunisia government to lift political party ban

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Media captionTroops fired warning shots as protesters marched in central Tunis

Tunisia's new government says it will recognise all banned political groups, including Islamists, and grant an amnesty to all political prisoners.

The announcement comes after the new cabinet held its first meeting, nearly a week after President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted amid mass protests.

The government also declared three days of mourning from Friday for dozens of people killed during the unrest.

Protests continued in Tunisia near offices of Mr Ben Ali's RCD party.

In the capital Tunis, troops fired warning shots at demonstrators, who demanded the banishing of all traces of the former ruling party.

Some protesters had tried to scale a wall at the RCD headquarters.

There were also reports of rallies in the towns of Gafsa and Kef.

Judges also staged a demonstration in Tunis demanding the resignation of all judges who worked for the ousted president.

'No going back'

"We are in complete agreement," Youth Minister Mohamed Aloulou said after Thursday's meeting of the cabinet - described by some of his colleagues as "historic".

"We are not going back. We will recognise all the political movements."

The government said the amnesty would also cover the banned Islamist Ennahda movement.

The announcement comes a day after two cabinet ministers and a former member both said that that the government had already freed all political prisoners.

Political wrangling had delayed the inaugural meeting of the cabinet. Hours before it was due to start, a minister who had belonged to the RCD announced he was pulling out of the government.

"I am stepping down for the higher interests of the country in this delicate situation to try to bring the country out of crisis and ensure a democratic transition," the official Tap news agency quoted Zouheir M'Dhaffar, minister of state in the prime minister's office, as saying.

Four opposition ministers quit the cabinet the day after it was formed, demanding the exclusion of RCD ministers.

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and interim President Fouad Mebazaa - the speaker of the lower house of parliament - have also quit the RCD to try to distance themselves from Mr Ben Ali.

Image caption The interim government must arrange a date for future elections

The RCD has also dissolved its central committee.

Mr Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia last week after mass street protests over unemployment, poverty and corruption.

Despite his departure, protests have continued, with demonstrators and opposition leaders demanding that all members of the RCD party be excluded from any future administration.

Although the situation across Tunisia remains tense, authorities have shortened the hours of curfew.

A state of emergency is still in place and the army is still deployed in the capital Tunis.

However, the interim government has pledged to re-open schools and universities on Monday.

The new cabinet has also promised free and fair elections within six months but has given no dates.

Tunisian officials say that 78 people died during weeks of the unrest, but the UN estimates that about 100 lost their lives.

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