TUNIS, (Reuters) – Demonstrators clashed with Tunisian police on Wednesday, as days of peaceful protests demanding a purge of former regime loyalists in an interim government descended into violence.
Clashes broke out near government offices in the old city, or casbah, of Tunis, where riot police fired teargas at hundreds of demonstrators, mainly teenagers and young men who threw stones.
The interim government will be reshuffled on Wednesday, ministers said. It has struggled to assert itself in the face of protesters’ demands to sack the remaining allies of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on January 14.
Wednesday’s protesters appeared to be Tunisians from the rural regions of the Mediterranean country’s deprived hinterland who have been camping out at the government compound.
They shouted at the security forces that they were “police of Leila,” a reference to Ben Ali’s unpopular wife Leila Trabelsi, who was seen as having excessive influence and lavish tastes.
A new cabinet lineup will be announced on Wednesday, mainly to fill posts vacated by five resignations over the past week, Education Minister Tayeb Baccouche told Reuters.
Another minister said some provincial governors would also be replaced, but the government remains dominated by former members of the ruling RCD party.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said he feared that the Tunisian revolution was being exploited by “foreign interests.”
Gaddafi expressed his concerns in an interview broadcast on the private Tunisian Nessma television station on Tuesday, and denied that he had invited Ben Ali to shelter in Libya.
“I fear for the Tunisian revolution because I see foreign intervention … It serves foreign interests,” Gaddafi said.
The Tunisian General Labour Union announced a general strike on Wednesday in Sfax, Tunisia’s second city and economic centre.
Inspired by Tunisia’s example, thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Tuesday to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, clashing with police who fired teargas and used water cannon.
The toppling of Ben Ali after 23 years in power, in protests led mainly by young people protesting against poverty, corruption and political repression, has electrified Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, where many countries face similar problems.