The government ditched ministers loyal to ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali on Thursday — a move which won backing from the powerful labour union and could help defuse protests which have inspired people across the Middle East.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said 12 ministers would be replaced, purging the interim government of members of the former ruling party including the interior, defence and foreign ministers.
Hundreds of protesters were still camped outside the prime minister’s office on Friday morning, but opinions on the cabinet reshuffle were divided.
Some protesters said the new government lineup met 80 percent of their demands and it was time to end the sit-in, while others said they would not go until Ghannouchi did.
“I feel this is an improvement. Lots of doors that were closed have been opened. The ones making the noise have a brother or someone who died so they are upset,” said Raed Chawishi, 24, outside the prime minister’s office.
“We have elections after six months. We have the right to vote, we can decide. If we don’t like it, we can continue the revolution. I think now we should wait for a bit.”
Saifeddine Missraoui, a student who has helped organise food and drink for protesters, took a harder line.
“We are not leaving here until Ghannouchi leaves and we get a brand new government. We want the ruling party, the RCD, to go completely,” he said
It was not clear if the new lineup would appease Tunisians beyond the protesters outside the prime minister’s office, mostly students or young unemployed men who came from rural Tunisia to make their voices heard in the capital.
But life began to return to normal in central Tunis, where the streets were jammed with cars and shops and offices were open.
Weeks of violent protests by Tunisians angered by poverty, repression and corruption forced Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 after 23 years in power.
But many were angered by the emergence of an interim government led by Ghannouchi which retained several former Ben Ali loyalists.
The purge is unlikely to fully quell protests, but it would provide greater legitimacy to the interim government, which had struggled to impose order after Ben Ali fled.
The purge replaced members of Ben Ali’s former ruling RCD party with ministers who Ghannouchi said were chosen for their high levels of experience and qualifications.
He also promised the new government — agreed after talks with all political parties and civil society groups — would lead the country into its first free elections, to be organised by an independent body and monitored by international observers.
Tunisia’s uprising has electrified Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, where many countries share the complaints of poor living standards and authoritarian rule.
Inspired by Tunisia’s example, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Protests have also spread to Yemen, where thousands took to the streets to demand a change of government.
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