Skip to main content

Tunisian interim prime minister announces new cabinet

From Zied Mhirsi, For CNN
Click to play
iReport talks Tunisia unrest
  • NEW: Cabinet includes 12 new ministers
  • Three members of the old guard remain in the cabinet
  • Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane, a holdover from the ousted president's government, quits
  • Ben Ali fled Tunisia on January 14 after weeks of protests

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) -- Tunisia's unity government weathered another shake-up Thursday as the foreign minister resigned and Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced the composition of a cabinet that includes 12 new ministers.

Nine ministers stayed in office from an interim government announced last week, Ghannouchi said in a televised address.

Ghannouchi ousted key ministers belonging to former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, known by its French acronym, RCD.

The move came amid calls from street protesters for the ouster of old-guard officials.

Demonstrators have camped out in front of the capital's government palace for five days, with some calling for Ghannouchi to step down.

The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the main force behind the current protests against the interim government, endorsed the new cabinet, which is expected to boost its credibility among protesters.

In a speech broadcast on Tunisian television, Ghannouchi announced new ministers of interior, defense, religious affairs, health and finance. None of the new ministers are from Ben Ali's defunct political party.

Parties begin to form in Tunisia

Ghannouchi, Development and International Cooperation Minister Nouri Jouini and Industry and Technology Minister Afif Chelbi are the only members of the cabinet who once belonged to RCD.

Some of the new appointees had been living overseas in other countries, including France and Morocco.

Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane was a holdover from Ben Ali's government, having served as foreign minister for about a year and as defense minister before that.

There was no immediate explanation for his resignation, but Ahmed Ouneies was named his replacement.

Morjane quit the RCD last week.

Ghannouchi on Thursday reiterated his intent to organize the first free elections in Tunisia since independence.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia on January 14 after weeks of citizen protests against poor living conditions, high unemployment, government corruption and repression. The United Nations says the protests have left more than 100 dead.

U.S. diplomatic cables released since November by the website WikiLeaks painted a scathing portrait of Ben Ali and his relatives, describing the extended family as a "quasi-mafia" that pushed businesses for a slice of any venture they were involved in.

Tunisian authorities announced Wednesday that they had issued an arrest warrant for the ex-leader, his wife and several of their relatives. Tunisian Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said they face a variety of charges, such as maintaining and exporting foreign currency illegally, carrying weapons and ammunition without licenses, and inciting armed violence between Tunisians.

Some of Ben Ali's relatives have been arrested and others are still at large, he said in remarks carried by the state news agency, Tunis Afrique Presse.

The grass-roots uprising that toppled Ben Ali has emboldened people in Egypt, Yemen and Algeria to take their complaints to the streets. But several analysts have told CNN that Tunisia's unique combination of repression, corruption and high unemployment make it unlikely that the revolt that ousted Ben Ali will be duplicated elsewhere in the region.

Journalist Zied Mhirsi contributed to this report