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January 17, 2011

Tunisia's Interim Government on Shaky Ground

by Lisa Bryant

Less than 24 hours after PM Ghannouchi announced a new government, hundreds of demonstrators were back on streets chanting for its downfall

The future of Tunisia's day-old interim government appeared in doubt Tuesday with the resignation of at least four members and fresh protests against it.   

Less than 24 hours after Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced a new government, hundreds of demonstrators were back on the streets of Tunis chanting for its downfall.  

As in previous days, riot police broke up the demonstrations with tear gas and chased the protesters down alleys.

The demonstrations came as at least four members of the interim government resigned. Three were members of the UGTT trade union, which played a key role in nationwide protests that led to last week's ouster of Tunisia's longtime president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Key players in Tunisia

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for more than two decades. He fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14.

Mohamed Ghannouchi

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi is a close ally of the ousted president.  He announced a new unity government this week.

Fouad Mebazaa

Fouad Mebazaa was sworn in as Tunisia's interim president last week.  H previously served as the speaker of parliament.

Najib Chebbi

Najib Chebbi is the founder of the largest and most credible opposition group, the Progressive Democratic Party.

Moncek Marzouki

Moncek Marzouki is the head of the small Congress for the Republic party.  The formerly exiled political activist and opposition leader returned to the country Tuesday.

The union members said they couldn't remain in a government composed of Ben Ali's ruling RCD party, which is widely perceived as corrupt and repressive.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Ghannouchi went on French radio to defend the interim government. Mr. Ghannouchi said all Cabinet members who are part of the RCD have clean hands and are experienced. The ruling party retains most of the key posts, including the defense, foreign, finance and interior ministries. By contrast, the opposition was handed relatively junior posts.  

Many Tunisian protesters want the RCD party barred from Tunisian politics altogether and all its members - including the country's prime minister and interim president - out of office.  

Protester Samir Darbousi, a member of the UGTT trade union, accused the interim government of trying to steal the people's revolution.

The government has promised democratic elections - originally set for two months from now. More recently Prime Minister Ghannouchi extended the time table to six months from now.