Tunisian government approves general amnesty

Tunisian government approves general amnesty

Tunisia's transitional government held its first cabinet meeting behind closed doors Thursday and immediately approved a general amnesty for all political prisoners, dpa reported.

   The measure still needs legislative approval, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, the minister in charge of regional development, told the German Press Agency dpa. The amnesty should clear the way for the al-Nadha movement, banned until now, to enter any future government.

   Members of that party are currently not in the interim government. Its head, Raschid Ghannouchi, who is currently in exile in London, was expected to return to Tunisia this week.

   Additionally, starting Friday, there were to be three days of national mourning for the victims of the recent popular uprising that drove former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power last week.

Meanwhile, heads of the regime of the ousted Ben Ali began to roll and 33 of his relatives were arrested.

   A shrunken unity government met after another minister stepped down, bringing to five the number of resignations since the government was named on Monday.

   Zouheir Mdhaffer, a longtime ally of Ben Ali who was reappointed minister for administrative development, said he was stepping down in "the greater interest of the country".

   He was the first minister drawn from the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), Ben Ali's old party, to quit. Four other ministers - three representing labour and one from the opposition - had already walked out, complaining that the RCD, despite being tainted by repression and corruption, was given all the top jobs.

   Earlier Thursday, Mdhaffer and four other ministers resigned their membership of the RCD, while the party continued its own purge in the run-up to elections by scrapping its politburo.

   The ministers were following in the example of Interim President Foued Mebazaa and Interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, who quit the RCD earlier this week as the focus of the demonstrations that toppled Ben Ali last week shift to the RCD - the party that has ruled the country since independence from France in 1956.

   In the capital Tunis, around 1,000 demonstrators assembled outside the party's headquarters to denounce its hold on power.

   "Get lost, RCD," and "RCD out," read some of the placards waved by protesters.

   Troops fired shots into the air to disperse the protesters.

   Towns in the centre of the country of 10 million also saw a third day of protests over the composition of the government, which is tasked with organizing free presidential and parliamentary elections within the next six months.

   Meanwhile, the race to replace Ben Ali gathered pace with a second candidate, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, throwing his hat in the ring.

   Ben Brik, an outspoken critic of Ben Ali who was jailed for five months in 2009 and 2010 after writing articles critical of the regime in the French press, told the German Press Agency dpa in Tunis of his decision.

   "My pen played a leading role in toppling Ben Ali's regime," Ben Brik told dpa.

   Meanwhile, 33 members of Ben Ali's kleptocratic extended family were arrested on charges of crimes against the country, state television reported.

   The television report showed images of jewellery, luxury watches and international credit cards confiscated from the suspects.

   The European Union, meanwhile, has agreed to freeze any of Ben Ali's assets held within the 27-nation bloc, diplomats told dpa.

   "Broad agreement was reached" on the need to go ahead, a diplomat said, while explaining the bloc had not yet worked out a definitive list of names to be targeted.

   Switzerland took a similar decision this week.

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