Tunisian PM calls for calm and pledges coalition and election

Hundreds of soldiers manned the streets of the Tunisian capital today where the prime minister was meeting opposition parties to try to form a coalition after protests swept the president from power.

In a dramatic climax to weeks of violent protests against his rule, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's president for more than 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia on yesterday and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi took over as caretaker president.



But it was not clear whether protesters, angered by poverty, unemployment and repression, would accept the technocrat Ghannouchi, prime minister since 1999, due to his close association with Ben Ali's rule.



The Tunisian army was called onto the streets, as residents said groups were marauding through Tunis setting fire to buildings and attacking people and property.



Army roadblocks were today blocking access to Bourguiba Avenue, Tunis' main thoroughfare and scene of clashes yesterday. Several hundred soldiers as well as tanks, military jeeps and armoured personnel carriers manned the approaching roads, still littered with the debris from the violence.



A military helicopter circled over the city centre.



In working class suburbs, residents lined the streets with metal bars and knives to ward off looters.



Ghannouchi went on live television, via telephone, last night to promise everything was being done to restore order.



He said he would meet representatives of political parties today to attempt to form a coalition government.



Ghannouchi told a private Tunisian television station in a telephone interview that today would be "a decisive day".



"I will meet representatives of political parties to form a government which I hope will meet expectations."



One of those invited to meet Ghannouchi for coalition talks was Najib Chebbi, an eloquent lawyer who has long been seen by Western diplomats as the most credible figure in the opposition.



"This is a crucial moment. There is a change of regime under way. Now it's the succession," Chebbi told France's I-Tele TV. "It must lead to profound reforms, to reform the law and let the people choose."



Mustafa Ben Jaafar, head of the Union of Freedom and Labour party, told Reuters he and two other opposition figures would meet Ghannouchi at 10:00 a.m. (0900 GMT).



"...The most important thing is to get this country out of the impasse that it is in," he said.



He said the other opposition figures invited to attend the meeting were Chebbi, and Ahmed Ibrahim, head of Ettajdid party.



"I salute the fact that groups of young people have got together to defend their neighbourhoods but we can assure them we will reinforce their security," Ghannouchi said.



"We are at the service of the Tunisian people. Our country does not deserve everything that is happening. We must regain the trust of citizens in the government."



He told Tunisians he would steer the state until early elections, but protesters warned they might take to the streets again.



"Tomorrow we will be back on the streets, in Martyrs Square, to continue this civil disobedience until ... the regime is gone. The street has spoken," said Fadhel Bel Taher, whose brother was one of dozens of people killed in protests. "All I fear is that the Tunisian street, as long as it sees one person from this regime remain, will continue to complain. We need to create a government in which all parties are represented, to salvage the situation," said Paris-based analyst Ahmed al-Bawlaqi.



The Eurasia Group consultancy said: "Although the streets of Tunis are calmer than they have been in several days, Ben Ali's departure is not likely to immediately defuse tension across the country".



"If Ghannouchi does not announce a definitive timetable for new presidential elections, or if he does not form a transitional government with substantial opposition representatives in the short term, it could drive protesters back out in the street," it said in a research note.



The violence and rapid turn of events sent shockwaves across the Arab world, where authoritarian rulers are deeply entrenched, but face mounting pressures from growing young populations, economic hardship and the appeal of militant Islam.



Western powers have long turned a blind eye to rulers in the region who provide a bulwark against Islamist radicals. The United States led international calls for calm and for the people of Tunisia to be given a free choice of leaders.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
news
News
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
books...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Recruitment Genius: Print / Warehouse Operative

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Supply Chain Assistant

£16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Anna Woodward: German Speaking Accountant

£45,000: Anna Woodward: My client is aleading global manufacturer and service ...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower