Tunisia scraps hated police unit

The Associated Press
Monday, March 7, 2011; 4:19 PM

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tunisia's prime minister named a new interim government on Monday and a much-hated police unit was disbanded as the interim leadership of this North African nation seeks to stabilize a country still finding its way after a popular revolt.

Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi kept the heads of the key defense, interior, justice and foreign affairs ministries, but named new figures to six posts vacated last week. Some ministers who left were seen as too close to the regime of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Others who resigned hope to run for office and were forced out.

Caid Essebsi reiterated that his priorities are re-establishing security, rebuilding Tunisia's troubled economy, and bringing life back to normal in the country that has long been a tourist draw for sun-minded Europeans.

"Without security, there is no development and investors won't come back," he told a news conference.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry announced it has abolished the dreaded State Security Department, whose so-called political police spied on and harassed citizens under Ben Ali.

The ministry said on its Facebook page that it is dismantling the force "in accordance with the values and the principles of the revolution."

Its disbanding has been one of the demands of the pro-democracy activists who have kept up the pressure on the interim leadership as it seeks to navigate the country into a new era, following an uprising that ousted Ben Ali on Jan. 14, which in turn sparked revolts around the Arab world.

It also comes as Tunisia struggles to cope with tens of thousands of refugees streaming across its border from Libya.

By making the announcement on Facebook, the ministry was also sending a statement to the protesters. Under Ben Ali, Tunisian authorities suppressed independent media and political dissent, but anti-government movements mobilized on social networking sites to stage demonstrations in December and January. Many protests turned deadly, as police fired on crowds.

The 84-year-old Caid Essebsi, himself named just a week ago after his predecessor quit amid renewed protests, said the new appointments have been approved by the interim president. He had said on Friday that he would present a new Cabinet to help pull his country back from the "abyss."

Last week, interim president Fouad Mebazaa announced an election on July 24 for a body that will draw up a new constitution.

"We must ensure that these elections are a success and that they are honest and transparent," Caid Essebsi said.

Electing a constituent assembly is seen as a step toward eventual presidential elections.

The prime minister said he was open to all political tendencies in a country that had known only one-party rule.

Two opposition leaders were among those who left the government last week, citing an order that ministers not run for president.

Sorbonne-educated Abderrazak Zouari was named to replace Nejib Chebbi, head of the PDP party, as regional development minister.

And U.S.- and French-trained professor Rifaat Chaabouni was promoted to minister for higher education and research, replacing Ettajdid party chief Ahmed Brahim.

© 2011 The Associated Press