News / Africa

    Talks Under Way for Body to Oversee Tunisia Cabinet

    Tunisian protesters who walked from Sidi Bouzid, lay on the ground in front of the prime minister building in Tunis, 23 Jan 2011
    Tunisian protesters who walked from Sidi Bouzid, lay on the ground in front of the prime minister building in Tunis, 23 Jan 2011

    Tunisian officials are negotiating the formation of a supervisory council to oversee the country's interim government, an effort to appease protesters angry at the continued presence in the cabinet of holdovers linked to deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime.

    Sources involved in the discussions said Monday the proposed council would issue an electoral code and hold elections for a new parliament that would rewrite the constitution.

    The sources say the oversight body would include Tunisia's powerful labor union, the bar association, civil groups and political parties - including the country's largest Islamist group, Al Nahda, which was banned under Mr. Ben Ali.

    A cabinet reshuffle also is expected within the next few days to fill ministries vacated by a slew of resignations. Five ministers have stepped down since the interim cabinet was announced last week, including three labor union representatives and one opposition leader.

    Earlier, Tunisia's army chief warned that a "power vacuum" could bring back the dictatorship, as pressure continues to mount on the interim government.

    General Rashid Ammar vowed the army would protect the "revolution." His decision to withdraw support from Mr. Ben Ali is widely seen as a turning point that eventually forced the former dictator to flee the country on January 14 after weeks of popular protests.

    Police fired tear gas at anti-government protesters Monday to break up demonstrations outside the prime minister's office.

    Meanwhile, the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East arrived in Tunis to confer with the interim government. A State Department spokesman said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman met officials to discuss plans for democratic reforms and elections.

    In France, the Paris state prosecutor's office announced Monday it had opened an investigation into the property assets that Mr. Ben Ali holds in the country. Tunisians have said the former president plundered the country's wealth during his 23-year reign.

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Monday that France - Tunisia's colonial-era overseer - "underestimated" the anger that drove protesters to overthrow the government. He promised Paris would stand alongside a more democratic Tunisia.

    Mr. Ben Ali fled the North African country amid an eruption of unrest over unemployment, rising prices and corrupt rule.

    The government has said at least 78 people have been killed in the violence. U.N. officials say the death toll may be as high as 100.

    Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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