Tunisia pledges tougher line on ex-leader’s allies

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Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi said his government would take a tougher line on allies of the ousted president, responding to calls to put more of them behind bars.

Thousands of people protested on Monday in the capital and provincial cities over what they see as the authorities’ failure to break with the legacy of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the leader toppled in a alliesrevolution that inspired the “Arab Spring”.

The protests were sparked by the release of former Justice Minister Bechir Tekkari from prison and the news that Saida Agrebi, a friend of Ben Ali’s wife, had fled to Paris, Reuters reports.
“We recognise that they are slower in these cases … The judiciary must take into account the expressions (of people’s will) and there should be a lot more speed,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

He said it was unfortunate that some people associated with Ben Ali were free and provoking public anger. “We’ll take precautionary measures against them,” Sebsi said without specifying the nature of those measures.

He also said he had asked the Minister of Justice to take measures against any judges who may be involved in corruption.

PROTECTING REVOLUTION

Tunisia electrified the Middle East in January when mass protests forced Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia. Tunisia’s revolution became the template for uprisings across the Arab world.

However, caretaker authorities running the country have struggled to restore stability. Protests and strikes break out regularly.

Many of those who supported the revolution suspect Ben Ali’s allies of trying quietly to claw back power, in collusion with friends in the caretaker government.

In his speech, Sebsi denied this, saying his government was “seeking to protect the revolution”.

Tunisia will vote on October 23 for a special assembly which will draft a new constitution. The prime minister said his government would honour its commitment to make that vote the country’s first free election.

Tunisians have watched television images of ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in a cage in a courtroom as he stands trial for corruption and involvement in killing protesters.

Many people say they feel cheated that they have not had the opportunity to see their own ex-leaders in the dock. Ben Ali has been found guilty on a series of charges, but was tried in absentia because he refused to return from Saudi Arabia.

Sebsi said Tunisians should feel proud of their revolution because Egypt was now run by the military while Tunisia had a civilian administration.



He said the slogans coined in Tunisia’s revolution — “Degage!” or “Get out!” and “The people want…” — had been adopted by opposition movements in the Arab world and even in Europe.