Tunisia seeks to restore order

The Tunisian Parliament on Monday (February 7th) passed a bill to grant the provisional government emergency powers, while hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the building to protest the vote. The bill is now slated for debate in the upper house on Tuesday.

“Time is precious. Tunisia has real need of rule by decree to remove dangers,” said Mohamed Ghannouchi at the parliamentary session. The interim prime minister met on Tuesday with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who launched a three-day Middle East and North Africa trip.

“We are witnessing a moment of opportunity here in Tunisia and in many other countries, an opportunity that should be seized rather than feared,” the UK official said at a news conference after the meeting.

In another development, the defence ministry on Monday released a communiqué, calling up soldiers who retired in the past five years and conscripts who recently left the ranks, TAP reported. They were told to report to their military posts on February 16th.

The move is aimed at curbing violence, according to the ministry. Last week-end, at least two civilians were killed in El Kef, as nearly 1,000 demonstrators gathered outside the local police station to demand the resignation of police chief Khaled Ghazouani. Also last week-end, a large public protest forced the new governor of the southern mining region of Gafsa to resign his post.

As the country tries to restore public order in the wake of the Tunisian revolution, the caretaker government seeks to do away with the remnants of the deposed regime.

On Sunday, the interior ministry suspended the activities of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD). According to its statement, the RCD ban is aimed at “preserving the supreme interest of the nation”. The ministry barred the party from holding meetings and shut down its offices.

The party ruled Tunisia’s political life for over half a century, controlling the country’s social aspects as well. Senior managers in administration were selected from holders of RCD membership cards.

Las month, the interim cabinet ordered the seizure of all RCD assets and legalised banned political parties.

The decision to suspend the party was welcomed by protesters and activists, who were calling for dissolving the RCD since Ben Ali’s January 14th departure.

“I think it’s a good decision although it was somewhat late, especially as we all know that the ruling party militias are responsible for the chaos and acts of violence that the country has been witnessing for two weeks,” said Tariq al-Mahmoudi. “However, we should be cautious about the reactions of its sleeper militias.”

In her turn, Serin Ben Mustafa called for “trying all RCD members who were involved in intimidating and terrorising the people in order to maintain their gains and drag people backwards.”

Meanwhile, Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights Mokhtar Trifi said in a press statement that his group “supports the freedom of founding and forming parties”, calling for “a just and transparent trial of the RCD”.

“We won’t deplore the disappearance of this party which caused tragedies and disasters for the country,” lawyer Lazhar Akremi told Magharebia. “For the first time in my life, I drank a cup of coffee this morning without the flavour of RCD.”

Sami Tahri, general secretary of the General Union of Secondary School Educators, complained to journalists about “militias moved by the ruling party to sow chaos in the educational sector.”

“In Ariana province, for example, the educational institutions were in chaos last Tuesday and there was panic and false news,” Tahri said. “This was because of a meeting and sit-in staged by those managers opposite the provincial administration under the pretext that they were demanding the creation of their own union. Those people are moved by the symbols of the former regime, and they took advantage of absence of security and left high and preparatory schools empty so as to sow chaos because the democratic gains that the country has made are not in their interest.”

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