TUNIS, (AFP) — Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sacked the government and called early elections in six months, the prime minister announced Friday as weeks of deadly unrest mounted with new clashes.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, quoted by the official TAP news agency, said Ben Ali had decided “to dismiss the government and call early elections in six months”.
The prime minister said he had been tasked with forming a new government.
He said the dismissal of the government was part of a host of measures decided by Ben Ali to calm the mounting unrest. The president also announced late Thursday that he would not seek another term after 2014.
Despite his concessions, thousands of demonstrators across Tunisia demanded Friday that Ben Ali step down immediately, with police firing volleys of tear gas to break up a huge rally in the centre of the capital.
Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane said meanwhile that a national unity government would be feasible and “totally normal” for the country.
Speaking on French radio station Europe 1 Friday, Morjane made a significant nod towards Mohammed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the opposition Progressive Democratic Party, which is legal but not represented in parliament.
“Given the conduct of people like Mr. Nejib Chebbi, I think it is feasible, even totally normal” to have a power-sharing deal, Morjane said. He gave no further details of who he thought might take part.
A Paris-based rights group has said the weeks of unrest have left 66 people dead since mid-December, with security forces opening fire on protesters. The toll is about three times higher than one issued by the government.
Ben Ali’s televised address on Thursday evening was well received by rival political groups in Tunisia, where he has held power for 23 years and the organised opposition is weak.
He also pledged to liberalise the political system and ordered security forces not to fire on crowds of protesters.