Tunisia: PM forced out, constituent assembly elections called

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In the face of renewed protests in Tunisia's capital, Tunis, Tunisian prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned on February 27.

This was one of the key demands of the popular movement, which has continued to push for democracy in the aftermath of the January 14 toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In another concession to the mass movement, the interim government announced that elections for a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution would be held on July 24, AlJazeera.net said on March 4.

After earlier protests calling for Ghannouchi’s resignation were cleared off the streets by security forces, big protests outside the PM’s office resumed on February 20. Ghannouchi had also served as PM under Ben Ali.

The protests in the Kasbah continued for over a week. By February 25, police estimated 100,000 were on the streets.

The next day, five people were killed and nearly 200 were arrested, the interior ministry said.

Ghannouchi was replaced by the 84-year-old Beji Caid el Sebsi, a former lawyer and veteran politician.

However, the resignation of Ghannouchi did not stop protests. Demonstrations continued to demand the resignation of the interim government and the formation of a constituent assembly.

Middle-East-Online.com reported on February 28 that protest coordinator Mohamed Fadhel said: “We will continue our sit-in until the formation of a constituent assembly and the recognition of the Council for the Protection of the Revolution.”

Five other ministers have resigned since.

One of those was local development minister Ahmed Nejib Chebbi from the Progressive Democratic party, who said President Foued Mebazaa had not renewed his temporary status as interim president — due to run out on March 17.

Chebbi said this was aimed at blocking his own bid for the presidency.

Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tunisia, Nazanine Moshiri, said if this issue was not resolved by March 17, “the military could be in charge of the country until the election”.

The military has played a mixed role in the revolution. Its refusal to back Ben Ali in the face of sustained mass protests finally forced the dictator to step down.

However, since then military leaders have urged protesters to demobilise, while pledging to defend the revolution.

An alternative is for the Council for the Protection of the Revolution to take power from the interim government in the lead-up to the constituent assembly elections.

The Council for the Protection of the Revolution includes the left-wing January 14 Front, the Tunisian General Labour Union (the main union federation), and other civil society groups that have played a role in the revolution.

The struggle to bring down the interim government, which is seen as tied to the old regime, continues. But the granting of two key demands of the revolutionary movement — the resignation of Ghannouchi and constituent assembly elections — shows the struggle is advancing.