Tunisia calls up army reserves to confront unrest

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia’s interim government said Tuesday it has called up military reservists to bolster the army as it confronts pockets of unrest across the country.

Soldiers who retired between 2006 and 2010 and conscripts who left the ranks at the end of 2008 and throughout 2009 were told to report to military posts from February 16, a statement carried by the TAP news agency said.

The army boasts some 45,000 troops, vastly outnumbered by the police and security apparatus of an estimated 100,000 men run by ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Some members of the caretaker government of new prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi have accused Ben Ali loyalists of fomenting unrest against the new leadership in an attempt to derail the transition to democracy.

On Sunday the government banned Ben Ali’s all powerful Constitutional Democratic Assembly and on Monday parliament approved a law granting decree powers to interim president Foued Mebazaa.

Ahead of the vote Ghannouchi spoke of “dangers” to the transition to democracy following Ben Ali’s overthrow on January 14.

“Time is precious. Tunisia has real need of rule by decree to remove dangers,” he said at the first parliamentary session since Ben Ali’s overthrow.

Pockets of protests have erupted across the country since Ben Ali’s ousting and police, closely associated with the hated Ben Ali regime, have played no role in restoring law and order. That task has been left to the army in recent unrest in Kasserine in central Tunisia, Kef in the northwest and Gafsa in the centre.

The army refused to fire on demonstrators during rallies that led to the overthrow of Ben Ali and army chief general Rachid Ammar joined street protesters in late January to tell them the military backed their demands.

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