October 23, 2011 / 10:32 AM / 9 years ago

Timeline: Tunisia goes to the polls

(Reuters) - Tunisia votes on Sunday in the first election of the Arab Spring, choosing from among 80 political parties to form an assembly charged with drafting a constitution within a year.

Here is a timeline of events in Tunisia since former ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali became the first leader to fall in the Arab Spring.

December 17, 2010 - Mohamed Bouazizi sets fire to himself in the central town of Sidi Bouzid in protest at confiscation by police of his vegetable cart. Local people demonstrate in support.

January 4, 2011 - Bouazizi dies of his burns. Huge funeral adds momentum to protests against unemployment and repression.

January 14 - After days of clashes in which dozens are killed, and having made empty promises of reforms and elections, Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi stays on, with parliamentary speaker Fouad Mebazza as interim president.

January 17 - Ghannouchi appoints opposition figures to a new national unity coalition and says will free political prisoners.

January 18 - Some opposition figures quit cabinet, demanding removal of former Ben Ali loyalists. Protesters denounce “sham.”

January 20 - After first cabinet meeting, government offers amnesty to all political groups including banned Islamists.

January 21 - After a day of protests against the old guard’s presence in the new cabinet, Ghannouchi promises to retire as soon as elections are held.

February 27 - Ghannouchi resigns after violent protests over his ties to Ben Ali, triggering street celebrations in Tunis.

— He is replaced by Beji Caid Sebsi, a former foreign minister under independence President Habib Bourguiba, according to an announcement by interim President Fouad Mebazza.

March 7 - Sebsi unveils a new cabinet of technocrats rather than career politicians, none of whom had served in previous governments under Ben Ali.

— Shortly after the new cabinet was announced, the Interior Ministry says Ben Ali’s political police and state security apparatus has been dissolved — a core demand behind the uprising.

March 9 - A Tunisian court rules that Ben Ali’s party be dissolved, triggering street celebrations.

April 26 - Senior members of Tunisia’s former ruling party are to be banned from a July 24 election and the vote will be run by an independent body for the first time, Sebsi says.

May 8-10 - Authorities arrest nearly 200 people after a series of anti-government protests that culminated in a street battle in Tunis. Protesters say they fear the interim administration will renege on its commitment to guide Tunisia toward democracy after decades of autocratic rule.

June 8 - Elections will be delayed until October 23 from July 24 to ensure they can be “free and transparent,” Sebsi says.

June 20 - A Tunisian court sentences Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi, in absentia, to 35 years in jail for theft and for illegally possessing large sums of cash.

July 28 - Tunisia sentences Ben Ali and his son-in-law to 16 years each in jail, on charges of corruption.

August 15 - Security forces use teargas and truncheons to disperse protesters in Tunis demanding the government step down for failing to prosecute supporters of the ousted president.

October 1 - Campaigning begins for what is billed as the first free election in the country’s history. About 11,000 candidates will contest 218 seats in an assembly which will have the task of drafting a new constitution.

October 23 - Voting begins in an election that will also appoint an interim government and set elections for a new president and parliament.

Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit

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