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Tunisian police unleash tear gas as government arrests TV boss

In the Tunisian capital, Tunis, protesters camped out in front of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi's office before being broken up by police on Monday. The protesters demanded the resignation of the interim government

Protestors demonstrate in Tunis

Ben Ali's RCD party has been the focus of protests in Tunis

Police in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, fired tear gas at anti-government protesters on Monday, as the country's interim government struggled to restore order in the city.

Hundreds of demonstrators defied an overnight curfew and camped out in front of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi's office to force the government to resign. Some threw stones and broke windows in the nearby Finance Ministry.

"We will stay here until the government resigns and runs away like [ousted President Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali," said 22-year-old student Othmene.

Many protesters came from the town of Sidi Bouzid, where the self-immolation of a fruit vendor triggered unrest that led Ben Ali to flee the country to Saudi Arabia on January 14. Protestors held up pictures of people killed during the former president's authoritarian rule.

The ongoing violence compelled former colonial power France to offer emergency aid to the embattled Tunisian government on Monday, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy commenting the measures should "be put into place as quickly as possible."

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi

Ghannouchi and other ministers have come under intense pressure to step down

"I have asked [Prime Minister] Francois Fillon to prepare measures that will be presented to Tunisia to help the transitional government, especially on the economic front," Sarkozy told a news conference.

Since Ben Ali's ouster, Tunis and other cities have seen daily protests against an interim government, in which key figures are holdovers from Ben Ali's rule, including Ghannouchi.

TV boss arrested

Meanwhile, the owner of private television channel Hannibal TV and relative of Ben Ali, Larbi Nasra, was arrested for treason on Sunday.

In a government statement, officials accused him of promoting the former president's return and "using the channel to abort the youth's revolution, spread confusion, incite strife and broadcast false information."

The channel was briefly taken off air Sunday, but resumed broadcasting within a few hours.

On Saturday, thousands rallied in Tunis and other cities, while hundreds of protesters launched a march on the capital from Sidi Bouzid.

The protests are supported by the main union in Tunisia, the UGTT, which refuses to recognize the interim government because of its links to Ben Ali's regime.

Since Ben Ali's departure, the interim government has removed restrictions on importing foreign films and literature, the media and the release of political prisoners.

Newsstand with Assarih, Tunisian daily newspaper

The media was tightly controlled under Ben Ali's rule

The interim government has vowed to organize Tunisia's first democratic elections since gaining independence from France in 1956.

Calls for calm

As the civil unrest in the country drags on, some in Tunisia are calling for a return to calm.

A strike by teachers has kept many schools shut, despite government orders to reopen them, prompting some criticism from parents of students.

"This strike is irresponsible, our children our being held hostage," said Lamia Bouassida, one of a dozen parents who had come to a school in central Tunis to check if it was open.

Former Prime Minister Rachid Sfar wrote in an editorial for the daily Tunisian newspaper La Presse that the revolution had gone far enough.

"We have to make the democratic process real and irreversible and at the same time guard against the violence and anarchy that threaten our country," he wrote.

Authors: Nicole Goebel, Andrew Bowen (Reuters, AFP, AP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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