Tunisia arrests Ben Ali relatives amid new protests

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TUNIS – Tunisian authorities arrested 33 members of toppled leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s family as protesters rallied again on Thursday to demand the rooting out of the dictator’s former ruling party.
The arrests were announced on state television, which showed footage of luxury watches, jewellery and credit cards seized in raids on homes of the former first family. Authorities had opened an investigation against them for plundering the nation’s resources, it said. The mass arrest of Ben Ali’s relatives showed how his influence has melted away since he dramatically fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday, following weeks of riots in the north African nation.
The accusations include illegal property acquisitions and currency transfers while those targeted included Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi, her brothers and their children, according to an official source quoted by the broadcaster.
Charges of corruption and revelations of the Ben Ali family’s lavish lifestyle helped fuel the anger of the protests against his 23-year rule which culminated in his toppling. About 1,000 people protested in the city centre against Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) in a new wave of anger about the presence of RCD stalwarts in the transitional government unveiled Monday. And as the new cabinet prepared for its first meeting of the post-Ben Ali era later Thursday, a minister from the RCD, Zouheir M’dhaffer, announced he had pulled out of the government.
M’dhaffer, who had been administrative development minister, said he resigned “to preserve the supreme interests of the nation and in favour of the democratic transformation of the country.” Four other ministers — three unionists and an opposition leader — pulled out on Tuesday because of the presence of officials from the party of the ex-regime. Eight new ministers who had been RCD members quit the party earlier Thursday, while the interim president vowed a “total break” with the past.
“The people want the government to be fired,” shouted protesters outside the party offices, carrying placards that read “We are not afraid of you any more, traitors” and “RCD Out”. Troops fired warning shots to prevent some protesters from scaling a wall around the party officers. Every day since 74-year-old Ben Ali fled, huge protests have demanded the outlawing of the RCD which has essentially run Tunisia since independence in 1956.
Thursday’s was the first demonstration allowed by security forces to reach the party offices, where army tanks stationed for several days had been removed.