Tunisia to pay abuse victims, hunt Ben Ali clan

TUNIS Fri Jan 21, 2011 5:13pm EST

1 of 32. Tunisian protesters chant slogans in front of the prime minister's building during a demonstration in Tunis, January 21, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia will pay compensation to the families of victims of human rights abuse under its ousted authoritarian leader and will send envoys to other Arab states to pursue him, its prime minister said on Friday.

Anti-government protesters again took to the streets as Tunisia began three days of mourning for the dozens of people killed during president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's overthrow.

The interim government, which took over after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia last week in the face of widespread popular unrest, has faced continued protests by crowds angry that members of the old guard are still in the cabinet.

Mohamed Ghannouchi, Ben Ali's prime minister who has remained in office to lead an interim coalition cabinet, made an effort to distance himself from the ousted president in an emotional television interview.

"I lived like Tunisians and I feared like Tunisians," he said. He promised compensation for the families of victims of human rights abuses, and said envoys to Arab capitals would make the case that Ben Ali should be tracked down.

"We are sure they (Arab leaders) will all be with the Tunisian people because what happened was a real revolution that made us proud of our country," he said.

Hundreds of people protested peacefully in central Tunis on Friday and outside the headquarters of the state-owned Tunisian Transport Company, demanding the removal of senior officials from Ben Ali's era.

An employee who gave his name as Moftah said: "This company has corrupt people and it's time to demand our rights. We're not going to be silent about this. We want this minority out."

In central Tunis crowds chanted: "We won't accept this government, we will never accept it."

Outside the prime minister's office, protesters jostled Ahmed Ibrahim, leader of the opposition Ettajdid Party and minister of higher education in the new cabinet, apparently angered at his role in a government they dislike.

State TV also showed hundreds of people protesting against the government in the southwestern town of Gafsa, Sfax on the coast and Tataouine in the far south.

Three days of national mourning were announced late on Thursday for the victims of the unrest that convulsed Tunisia for several weeks. The government says at least 78 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, while the United Nations has put the toll at around 100.

"GENERAL AMNESTY"

The new government said schools and universities would reopen on Monday and sporting events, also on hold since last week, would resume soon.

It offered a blanket amnesty to all political groups, including the banned Islamist opposition. Some political analysts say moderate Islamists could attract more followers in post-Ben Ali Tunisia than their secular rivals like to admit.

"The Islamist movement was the most oppressed of all the opposition movements under Ben Ali. Its followers are also much greater in number than those of the secular opposition," said Salah Jourchi, a Tunisian expert on Islamic movements.

Protesters have complained that despite a promised amnesty, only a few hundred of those imprisoned for political reasons during Ben Ali's 23-year rule had been released.

"We are in agreement for a general amnesty," Higher Education Minister Ibrahim said on Thursday.

Authorities have said they arrested 33 members of Ben Ali's family for crimes against the state. On Friday, Interior Minister Ahmed Friia named one of those held as Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali's wife Leila.

"Regarding our ability to track down those relatives of the ex-president and his wife who ran away, fleeing from Tunisia will not help them," he told a televised news conference. "Tunisia has treaties with countries all over the world."

Tunisian state TV showed pictures of weapons being removed from the homes of Ben Ali family members. "This shows the excesses of this family," it said.

Ben Ali fell after weeks of unrest spurred by anger over poverty, unemployment and repression. It was the first popular uprising to topple an Arab leader in decades.

European traders said on Friday Tunisia's state grains agency had completed its first grains tender since the unrest.

Central Bank governor Mustafa Kamel Nabli told reporters Tunisia was considering postponing plans to borrow money abroad until its credit rating recovered.

"After what happened, we decided to review returning to international (debt) markets once things become clearer and after we return to (previous) rating levels," he said.

A 2014 deadline for the full convertibility of its dinar currency might also be delayed, he added.

(Additional reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Giles Elgood and Peter Graff; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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