Behind the scenes and forecasts by Francesco Guidi

Tension returns to Tunisia with protests against the Transitional Government

May  09, 2011 - : 

Following a month of calm that accompanied the appointment of interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi at the head of the Transitional Government, the situation is once again tense in Tunisia with numerous anti-government protests throughout the country. Protesters believe the government is betraying the Revolution that removed Ben Ali from power. There have been clashes in the capital with the police making widespread use of tear gas to disperse protesters. On Saturday, May 7th, after three days of clashes, a night time curfew was imposed in Tunis from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. Protests also continued on Sunday May 8th.
Prime Minister Essesi denies allegations concerning the preparation of a military coup made by former Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi
The atmosphere had become highly tense following allegations made by former Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi, who on Wednesday, May 4th in an interview published on Facebook, said that a military coup d'etat was being prepared in the country  should the Islamists belonging to the extremist Ennahdia party win the July 24th general election. The former minister said that the appointment on April 18th of General Rachid Ammar as the interim Chief of Staff is simply part of the preparation of the military coup d'etat. On Sunday, May 8th interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi denied these allegations saying, "The statements made by Farhat Rajhi are dangerous and irresponsible lies that deserve to be addressed in a court of law. The only objective of those statements is to spread chaos in the country and have the July 24th general election postponed." Essebsi said that the elections will be held on this date unless violence and protests result in a necessary postponement. The interim prime minister asked for tension to end emphasizing its effect on a revival of the country's economy. This statement led many in Tunis to believe that the elections probably will be postponed. The prime minister also clearly explained the reasons for which, on March 8th, he decided to remove Rajhi from his position as Interior Minister, these being the mediocrity with which the ministry was run and the minister's lack of knowledge regarding government mechanisms. Essebsi also charged Rajhi of having made an extremely delicate appointment, that of the Director General of Security, without consulting the president of the republic and the prime minister. On Saturday, May 7th, the president also dismissed Farhat Rajhi from his position as director of the High Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The statement made by Islamic leader Rachid Gannouchi
On Sunday, May 8th, Rachid Gannouchi, president of the Ennahdia (Renaissance) Islamic party, said, "Tunisians doubt the credibility of the Transitional Government. On the other hand, the government's reaction to what has happened in recent days in Tunis during protests was savage and the police's attitude was extremely harsh, similar to the one assumed by the past regime. The police appear to be unaware of the changes that have taken place and that Tunisians now have the right to protest." Rachid Gannouchi, 70-years-old and one of the best known politicians in Tunisia, returned home in February after living in exile for more than 20 years. He had been sentenced in absentia to life in prison in 1992.
Breakouts from Tunisian prisons continue
On April 29th about 300 detainees broke out of the Gafsa prison, in southern Tunisia, following a fire that was probably intentionally lit. Other escapes took place simultaneously and always following destructive events, from prisons in Kasserine, in the southwest of the country and from Sfax in the south. In reporting this news, the Tunisian press envisaged the possibility of a coordinated jailbreak. There had been many escapes from Tunisian prisons in the most violent days of the Revolution that put an end to Ben Ali's regime on January 14th. It is said that 9,500 detainees have fled so far.
Unstable situation at the border with Libya
The Tunisian government has once again protested about mortar rounds fired over the border from Libya and announced "steps will be taken to preserve territorial integrity due to the lack of respect for borders shown by the Libyan authorities."  In recent days mortar rounds landed in Tunisia, coming from the Gzaya area in Libya, about ten kilometres from the border and the theatre of clashes between government troops and insurgents. On Friday, May 6th at least six mortar rounds fell without injuring anyone at the border check point in Deliba, in southern Tunisia, one of the man border crossings used by Libyan refugees. On May 8th, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees announced that at least 50,000 Libyans had crossed the border into Tunisia to escape the fighting.

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