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Tunisia holds new government talks as Europe's leaders call for peace

World leaders have called on Tunisia to seize the chance for a peaceful shift to democracy. Though tensions remain high, politicians are holding talks aimed at forming a unity government until new elections can be held.

EU and Tunisian flags

The EU said it will support democratic transition in Tunisia

Tunisian politicians held talks to try to form a unity government on Sunday after the country experienced its worst day of violence in nearly a month on Saturday.

Tunisian officials said the government would investigate deaths of civilians during the wave of protests that led to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's abrupt departure after 23 years in power.

The head of ousted President Ben Ali's presidential guard, Ali Seriati, was arrested along with several colleagues and detained on charges of plotting against state security, according to Tunisia's TAP state news agency.

On Saturday, Tunisia's interim president, former speaker of parliament Fouad Mebazaa, was sworn in. He told the prime minister to form a national unity government - including members of opposition parties.

Maya Jribi, head of the Democratic Progressive party (PDP), the main opposition party, told the AFP news agency he would meet with Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to discuss interim government options.

A man carries goods from a building

Looting of stores and homes continued over the weekend

The opposition, which was neutered under Ben Ali's rule, has demanded a role in running the country, saying the current administration is corrupt and tainted by the police killings of dozens of demonstrators. Tunisia's constitution calls for elections to be held within 60 days, an amount of time some opposition members have criticized as too short.

A German photo agency says one of its photojournalists has died from injuries sustained while covering the anti-government protests.

The European Pressphoto Agency said Sunday that 32-year-old Lucas Mebrouk Dolega died in Tunisia as a result of head wounds Sunday. The French-German dual national had been hit by a tear gas grenade on Friday.

Determined support

Meanwhile, politicians from Western countries pleaded for a peaceful transition to democracy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to the new authorities in Tunis to use the dramatic political changes as a chance for "a new beginning."

She urged them to respect human rights and freedom of the press and assembly, and said both Berlin and the European Union would support Tunisia in its efforts towards democracy.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for "calm and end to violence." He said in a statement the country now needed "the organization of free elections in the shortest time possible."

The region's former colonial power, France offered its "determined support" in the transition to democracy.

Britain and Italy also joined those calling for a restoration of peace and stability. In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said "the re-establishment of peace and calm, through democratic dialogue and in accordance with the constitution" was an "urgent task."

Time for profound change

The European Union said it hopes that the ousting of long-time authoritarian leader Ben Ali will put Tunisia on a path towards a real pluralistic society.

Tunisian soldiers

The army is patrolling in Tunis to try and calm the situation

"It is clear the time for profound change has come in Tunisia," said Jerzy Buzek, speaker of the European Parliament.

"The long-term stability of a country rests on full civil and political rights, political pluralism based on a true multi-party system and on the rule of law," he added. "This is the only way to a both prosperous and stable democracy; this is the way forward."

Expressions of support also came from the United Nations, the United States and Canada.

Muted Arab response

Tunisia's Arab neighbors, however, have been more muted in their support, calling for peace to be restored but being hesitant about calling for more democracy.

Analysts have said many of the nearby semi-authoritarian regimes are growing nervous about the unrest spreading to their own countries. Libya's Moammar Gaddafi on Saturday said in a public broadcast that he regrets Ben Ali's fall from power.

The revolt in Tunisia "is the first popular uprising to succeed in removing a president in the Arab world," said Amr Hamzawy, an analyst at Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center.

"It could be quite inspiring for the rest of the Arab world," Hamzawy said.

Author: Andreas Illmer (AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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