Tunisian minister suspends ex-ruling party

Tunisia’s interior minister suspended all activities of the country’s former ruling party amid the most serious protests since the country’s autocratic president fled into exile.

Tunisia’s interior minister suspended all activities of the country’s former ruling party amid the most serious protests since the country’s autocratic president fled into exile.

Fahrat Rajhi suspended all meetings of the Democratic Constitutional Rally, known as the RCD, yesterday, and ordered all party offices or meeting places it owned closed, ahead of a demand to dissolve the party, a ministry statement said.

The RCD embodied the policies of former strongman President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after a month of nationwide anti-government protests. The party became a key instrument by which Ben Ali maintained power and by which corruption spread.

Should the RCD be dissolve, it would be among the most sweeping moves since Ben Ali’s departure.

The official TAP news agency which carried the statement, said the measure was taken because of the “extreme urgency” of the situation, a reference to deadly weekend protests around Tunisia, and to “preserve the higher interests of the nation”.

The announcement came hours after crowds pillaged, then burned a police station in the north-western city of Kef a day after police shot dead at least two demonstrators. It was the worst violence in Tunisia since Ben Ali fled, ending 23 years in power.

Protests have also erupted in other corners of the North African country, which is being run by a caretaker government before presidential elections to be held in six to seven months.

Authorities have been removing traces of the Ben Ali regime, notably eliminating figures connected with the former ruling party – but not fast enough for many citizens. Protests were held in several towns to protest the nomination of new governors belonging to the RCD.

The party’s activities were not just limited to politics. Under Ben Ali’s reign, the party had tentacles in all aspects of Tunisian life. There are widespread fears that Ben Ali loyalists within the party are seeding anarchy to upset what Tunisians call their “people’s revolution”.

Among other distrusted entities is the police force, which instilled fear as it carried out the repressive policies of Ben Ali. The move by the interior minister, ultimately in charge of police, could amount to a double gesture to shore up the revolution in the eyes of many Tunisians.

Crowds attacked a police station in Kef yesterday, seizing documents and equipment and setting it on fire, TAP reported. The army responded by encircling local government buildings to protect them, but tension was high.

On Saturday, Kef police fired at an angry crowd of 1,000 people attacking the police station with stones and firebombs, killing at least two people and injuring 17.

The crowd had tried to break into the station after the police chief “mishandled” a citizen, TAP said.

Witnesses said the police chief had slapped the woman.

The police chief, Khaled Ghazouani, was placed under arrest, according to the ministry.

In Kebili, in the south, a youth hit by a tear gas canister was killed. He was among a group of demonstrators trying to attack a National Guard post to protest at the appointment of a local governor, the news agency said.

In the mining town of Gafsa in the centre-west, newly-appointed governor Mohamed Gouider was forced to leave his new post in a military vehicle provided by the army amid a large demonstration by crowds demanding his departure and a “total rupture with the symbols of the old regime”, TAP reported.

Similar demonstrations were held in several other towns, from Sfax, the southern capital, to Bizerte, 35 miles north of Tunis.

Two opposition parties in the interim government condemned the naming of regional governors without consultation and, for the Democratic Progressive Party, failing to assure a “climate of confidence between the administration and citizens”.

The caretaker government is in its second life after being forced by protesters to drop key ministers long linked to the RCD.

Prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a long-time figure in the RCD, maintained his post but dropped his membership. The party’s executive bureau resigned.

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