Tunisia holds new govt talks after revolt

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TUNIS – Tunisia’s main parties held talks on Sunday to form a national unity government as soldiers patrolled the streets amid fears of a backlash by supporters of ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Officials said the government would now investigate killings of civilians during the wave of protests that led to Ben Ali’s abrupt departure after 23 years in power and look into allegations of corruption of his inner circle. Around 1,500 protesters held a peaceful rally in the central Tunisian town of Regueb in which they condemned the political talks in the capital saying the new government would not be truly democratic, a local trade union leader said.
“We didn’t rise up for the formation of a unity government with a fake opposition,” he said, adding that demonstrators had chanted “Limited negotiations are a fake democracy”. The army broke up the rally as protests are banned under the rules of a state of emergency declared in the country on Friday. Regueb was the scene of several violent protests in the run-up to the ouster of Ben Ali. Representatives of two parties banned under Ben Ali — the Communist party and the Islamist Ennahdha party — were excluded from the government talks.
The head of Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, who lives in exile in London, told AFP earlier that he now intended to return to Tunisia. Meanwhile some cafes re-opened in the centre of the capital Tunis — the scene of violent clashes in the days running up to Ben Ali’s abrupt departure on Friday — as the army continued its lockdown of the city centre. “There are major food shortages. We don’t have enough bread and flour. We risk a food crisis if this continues,” said Najla, who was filling her basket with meat and vegetables at the main market in Tunis.
Long queues were seen outside the few bakeries and groceries open. A French photographer from the EPA agency hit in the head by a tear gas canister during the protests in central Tunis on Friday died of his injuries on Sunday, his relatives and a source at the French consulate said. A source at the military hospital in Tunis earlier on Sunday also said that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of the wife of former president Ben Ali, was stabbed and died on Friday — the same day that the president fled to Saudi Arabia.
The night in Tunis was punctuated by the crackle of gunfire and army helicopters circled overhead, as eyewitnesses reported people riding around in ambulances and cars in the suburbs shooting up homes at random. Observers said the transition of power in Tunisia would be far from smooth. “You can’t ignore the power of disruption of the presidential security apparatus that was headed up by general Ali Seriati. It has thousands of supporters of Ben Ali,” an informed source said on condition of anonymity. Tunisia’s new acting president, speaker of parliament Foued Mebazaa, was sworn in on Saturday after Ben Ali resigned and fled Tunis following weeks of social protests in cities across the North African state. Mebazaa said earlier that all Tunisians “without exception” would now be able to take part in national politics in the once tightly-controlled country and a presidential election is due to be held in two months’ time.