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Thousands pressure Tunisian PM to quit

25 stycznia, 2011

Thousands of anti-government protesters rallied outside Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi\'s office on Sunday, calling for him to quit after the downfall of the north African state\'s 23-year regime.

"The people have come to bring down the government," the protesters chanted as they brandished pictures of some of the dozens of people killed by security forces during the uprising against president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

They broke through security cordons to reach the doors of the building in central Tunis but the rally remained mostly peaceful and security was low. A police source estimated the number of protesters at around 3,000 people.

The new transitional government, put in place after Ben Ali resigned and fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14, has unveiled unprecedented freedoms but it still includes Ghannouchi and other old-regime figures.

"We have come to bring down the rest of the dictatorship," said Mohammed Layani, an elderly man draped in a Tunisian flag, who arrived with hundreds of others from the region in central Tunisia where the uprising began.

Samit, a young man from the city of Kairouan, said: "We are outcasts in our own country. All the wealth goes to the coast. But our main demand is freedom before bread. We want this fascist and corrupt regime to fall."

On a sign reading "Prime Minister\'s Office," a protester had scrawled: "Ministry of the People". A placard held up during the rally read: "They stole our money, they won\'t steal our revolution."

The protest was supported by the General Union of Tunisian Workers, best known under its French acronym UGTT, which played a key role in anti-Ben Ali protests and has refused to recognise the fledgling government.

The state news agency TAP, meanwhile, said that security forces had detained two more figures linked to the old regime -- Senate chief Abdallah Kallal and Ben Ali adviser Abdel Aziz Ben Dhia.

The authorities say they have arrested 33 members of Ben Ali\'s family.

Public assemblies of more than three people are officially banned under a state of emergency that remains in place, along with a night-time curfew.

The curfew has been eased and schools and universities, which have been shut since January 10, are expected to begin re-opening this week.

Ghannouchi, who has been prime minister since 1999 and has unveiled major reforms, earlier promised to quit politics after the north African state\'s first democratic elections since independence from France in 1956.

The government has said the vote will be held in six months but no dates have been set and under the constitution they should take place in two months.

Many Tunisians are already enjoying their new-found democratic freedoms after the first popular revolt in the Arab world\'s recent history, which has inspired dissidents to protest in many other parts of the region.

Among the changes was a removal on Saturday of restrictions on the import of foreign literature and films, tightly controlled by the previous regime.

The banned Islamist movement Ennahdha has also said it now intends to register as an official political party and take part in elections.

Its exiled leader Rached Ghannouchi, who lives in London, was quoted on Saturday saying he would return to his homeland "very soon".

But many Tunisians say their revolution has not yet achieved its goals and are calling for the break-up of the powerful former ruling party.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile has called on the embattled Tunisian prime minister to carry out democratic reforms to stem the country\'s political turmoil, her spokesman said Saturday.

Clinton called Prime Minister Ghannouchi "to encourage ongoing reforms, and pledged support for transition to open democracy," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a message on the micro-blogging website Twitter.

Officials say 78 people were killed during weeks of protest and they have been hailed by Tunisia\'s imams as "martyrs of the revolution".

There have already been numerous cases of self-immolation in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Mauritania like the one that set off the Tunisian protests.