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The resignation of three ministers rocked Tunisia's fledgling unity government Tuesday as protesters vented their anger

'The dictator has fallen but the dictatorship not yet'

Anger against new Tunisian government line-up brings thousands of protesters onto streets

 

By Kaouther Larbi - TUNIS

 at the new leadership just days after the ouster of the Arab state's strongman.

The ministers, representing Tunisia's main trade union, announced their withdrawal after the union refused to recognise an administration that contains eight ministers from president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's discredited regime.

"We are resigning from the government after a call from our union," said Houssine Dimassi, training and employment minister in the transitional unity government unveiled only on Monday.

Dimassi said the two other ministers resigning were Abdeljelil Bedoui, a minister working in the prime minister's office, and Anouar Ben Gueddour, a junior transport minister.

Their UGTT labour union held an extraordinary meeting near Tunis earlier on Tuesday at which it decided not to recognise the new government.

The resignations concided with the return to Tunisia of opposition figure Moncef Marzouki

 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moncef_Marzouki), ending years of exile in Paris.

Marzouki, who said he intends to run in a planned presidential election, on Monday had branded the new government a "masquerade".

Anger against the new government line-up brought thousands of protesters onto the streets of Tunis and several other cities on Tuesday.

Riot police fired tear gas to break up a rally in Tunis led by key Islamist leader Sadok Chourou, who was imprisoned for 20 years under the old regime.

"The new government does not represent the people and has to fall," Chourou, 63, ex-leader of the banned Ennahdha (Awakening) movement, said.

Protesters chanted: "We can live on bread and water alone but not with the RCD," a reference to the former ruling party, which has held on to key posts in the new government including the foreign, defence and interior ministries.

Police also broke up another rally in Tunis amid growing opposition to the government line-up. All public assemblies are officially banned under the rules of a state of emergency declared shortly before disgraced president Ben Ali resigned and fled on Friday.

Thousands more protested in the cities of Sfax and Sidi Bouzid -- the city where a wave of social protests against the Ben Ali regime started last month after a 26-year-old vendor set himself on fire in a protest against police.

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, one of the eight ministers staying on from the previous government, said on Monday that he and the others had helped "preserve the national interest" during days of chaos in the country.

"They kept their posts because we need them at this time," Ghannouchi said on French radio Europe 1. "All of them have clean hands," he said.

Ghannouchi also said that exiled Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi, who is not a relative of the prime minister, would only be able to return to the North African state from Britain once an amnesty law had been approved.

The popular Islamist was sentenced to life in prison under the old regime for plotting against the state.

As he unveiled the new government and promised parliamentary and presidential elections within six months on Monday, Ghannouchi announced complete media freedom and the release of all political prisoners.

On Tuesday, Ghannouchi said that those responsible for repressions during the past month of protests would be put on trial.

"All who were involved in those massacres will answer to justice," he said.

But many Tunisians remained unconvinced by the new leadership.

"This isn't a transitional government, it's the return of the old regime in a different form," said Mustapha Hammami, a trade unionist in a cafe in the historic Medina downtown area of the capital Tunis.

"The RCD, the party of dictatorship and the symbol of totalitarianism and tyranny, is still in business," one Internet user wrote on Facebook.

Another Facebook post read: "The dictator has fallen but the dictatorship not yet. Tunisians have to continue their mission."

Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa on Monday said 78 people had been killed in the protets -- several times higher than the last official death toll -- and said losses to the economy amounted to 1.6 billion euros (2.2 billion dollars).

The losses are equivalent to around four percent of Tunisia's GDP.

Thousands of foreign tourists -- a key source of revenue -- have fled Tunisia in recent days and normal business activity has been disrupted.

The president fled to Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power and some of his closest allies including former security chief Ali Seriati have been arrested.

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