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Tunisian foreign minister Ounaies resigns from transitional gov't

By BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 12:33 PM

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tunisia's foreign minister has resigned just weeks after he was named to replace the month-old transitional government's first, short-lived foreign minister, the official TAP news agency said Sunday.

The report didn't provide any details about the reasons behind Ahmed Ounaies' resignation, but critics have decried what they saw as the offhand way he described the "people's revolution" that ousted the North African nation's longtime autocratic president, Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, on Jan. 14.

It was not immediately clear when Ounaies' replacement would be named.

Ounaies's predecessor, Kamel Morjane, was a minister under Ben Ali and one of several who initially kept their jobs in the transitional government formed days after the mass uprising forced Ben Ali into exile. Continuing street protests later forced the resignations of Morjane and most other Cabinet ministers with their roots in Ben Ali's ruling RCD party.

Ounaies, a 75-year-old retired diplomat, was named to replace Morjane on Jan. 27 but soon ran into trouble.

An interview with Tunisian television channel Nessma angered many who didn't appreciated the light tone with which he spoke about the deadly protests that toppled Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

A Feb. 4 visit to Paris, where he met with French counterpart Michele Alliot-Marie, got him into more trouble. In declarations following their meeting, Ounaies told reporters "Meeting Mrs. Alliot-Marie is a dream come true. I love to hear what she says in every circumstance."

Tunisia is a former French protectorate, and some here took umbrage with the comment's sycophantic overtones.

Alliot-Marie was also embroiled in a controversy over a year-end 2010 trip to Tunisia that saw her and her family members take a private plane owned by a Tunisian businessman suspected of having close relations with the fallen regime.

France's foreign minister had also come under fire for offering French police know-how to Tunisian security forces while the number of demonstrators killed by Tunisian police mounted. The opposition called on her to resign, but Alliot-Marie has resisted.

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