Tunisian government upbeat after first meeting

Tunisia's fragile new government emerged from its first meeting today hopeful that it can reunite a country scarred by deadly riots, and calm people still seething at the party which reigned supreme for 23 years.

Tunisia's fragile new government emerged from its first meeting today hopeful that it can reunite a country scarred by deadly riots, and calm people still seething at the party which reigned supreme for 23 years.

The army fired warning shots to calm a noisy but peaceful protest in front of the long-ruling RCD party's headquarters, where demonstrators took down a huge sign and demanded that the government - dominated by members of the old guard - be dismantled too.

Ministers in the multi-party Cabinet met for four hours this afternoon and came out showing a united front.

The government suggested that Islamists imprisoned under ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would be given amnesties.

It pledged to make security the top priority, to prepare for new presidential elections and speed up political reforms, new government spokesman Tayyib Al Bakouchi told reporters.

The ministers pledged to restore goods and property appropriated by the ruling party under Mr Ben Ali, to reopen schools shuttered by violence and remove security forces stationed at universities.

"We will not sleep until normalcy returns to all aspects of life in country," Mr Al Bakouchi said.

The government declared three days of national mourning, and held a moment of silence for the dozens of people killed in nearly a month of unrest leading up to Mr Ben Ali's departure last Friday.

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