Skip to main content

Tunisian government lifts ban on political groups

By the CNN Wire Staff
Click to play
Tunisia's ruling party is shunned
  • NEW: The government also announced an amnesty for all political prisoners
  • New Cabinet convenes as the former ruling party's central committee is dissolved
  • Protesters gather at party headquarters to cheer the party's disintegration
  • Protesters have demanded that members of the old administration be swept out

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) -- Tunisia's new government announced Thursday it will recognize political groups banned under the regime of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and grant amnesty to all political prisoners.

The announcement followed the first meeting of the new Cabinet formed by the North African country's interim leaders as they and other former members of Ben Ali's ruling party tried to climb from under his shadow.

Ben Ali's beleaguered Constitutional Democratic Rally was crumbling amid popular cries to exclude the party in shaping Tunisia's future. The central committee of the party -- known by its French acronym RCD -- was dissolved earlier Thursday, and all Cabinet members who once belonged to the party have quit it.

Ben Ali's party suffered a major blow earlier this week when interim President Fouad Mebazaa and interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi submitted their resignations, Tunis TV reported.

Tunisian ripple effect in Jordan?
Tunisian protests go on, police stand by
Glimpse of normalcy in Tunisia

Those resignations Tuesday followed street protests in the capital, Tunis, that called the new government a sham and demanded that officials with connections to the old guard be fired.

Mebazaa has said he plans to sever "any link with the past," referring to the unpopular years of the former regime's authoritarian rule. His government is tasked with leading Tunisia toward new elections.

But for many Tunisians, the resignations and promises are not enough.

"The Tunisian people don't want this party, this dictatorial party," English teacher Mohammed Basha said. "We want a real revolution. We don't want any more lies, because we are fed up. Twenty-three years of lies."

Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for 23 years until the popular rebellion forced him to flee on Friday. The RCD initially formed a consensus government with the opposition, but protesters demanded that members of the old administration -- whom they called "leftovers" -- be swept out of power.

"You have to understand that this party is involved in the nitty-gritty of every bit of the administration in this country," said Hadi Benabbas, a school professor. "And they are controlling the people, controlling the way they speak, everything."

In Tunis, crowds gathered in front of the soaring headquarters of the RCD and cheered the announcement of the party's diminishing status.

They shouted approval as the large red metal letters and words that made up the RCD sign were ripped off and tossed off the 20-story glass building. One man wrote "Death to the RCD" on the gate with black spray paint. A sign read: "House of the People's Revolution."

The army fired into the air to keep roughly 2,000 protesters at the former ruling party's headquarters at bay, but so far there has been no violence.

CNN crew caught in Tunisia tear gas
Gallery: Startling power shift in Tunisia

Ben Ali's ouster followed weeks of protests over what discontented Tunisians said were poor living conditions, high unemployment, government corruption and repression. They were sparked when Mohamed Bouazizi, an unemployed college graduate, set himself ablaze after police confiscated a fruit cart that was his source of income. He died early this month.

More than 100 people were killed in protests that followed over the past five weeks, according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The fatalities include victims of live fire, suicides and weekend prison riots.

Protesters have denounced the wealth and corruption of Ben Ali and his family.

Swiss authorities have put a freeze on assets belonging to Ben Ali and his "entourage," according to the Foreign Ministry website. The Swiss goal is to "avoid any possible risk of embezzling" Tunisian state assets.

The rallies in Tunisia, one of the Arab world's most secular countries, have ignited unrest in the region, including in neighboring Algeria, where crowds took to the streets last week to protest food prices. State-run media reported at least three people had died in those clashes.

And in Egypt, several people have set themselves afire in public this week, echoing the protest that triggered Tunisia's demonstrations in December.

Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan, said the Tunisian uprising is the most successful revolt in the region since the 1979 toppling of the shah in Iran.

CNN's Ben Wedeman, Tommy Evans and Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
'Sons of Mubarak' in plea for respect
Pro-Mubarak supporters believe Egypt's former president is innocent of charges of corruption and killing protesters.
Timeline of the conflict in Libya
Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a nationwide civil war.
Who are these rebels?
After months of seeming stalemate, Libyan rebels declared they were moving in on Tripoli. But who are they?
Why NATO's Libya mission has shifted
Six months and more than 17,000 air sorties after it began, NATO's Operation Unified Protector in the skies over Libya grinds on.
Interactive map: Arab unrest
Click on countries in CNN's interactive map to see the roots of their unrest and where things stand today.
Send your videos, stories
Are you in the Middle East or North Africa? Send iReport your images. Don't do anything that could put you at risk.
Libya through Gadhafi's keyhole
Behind the official smiles for the cameras some people in Libya's capital are waiting for the rebels, reports CNN's Ivan Watson.
How Arab youth found its voice
Tunisia's Mohamed Bouazizi not only ignited a series of revolts but heralded the first appearance of Arab youth on the stage of modern history.