By Hassan El Fekih (AFP) – Feb 2, 2011
TUNIS — Tunisia's interim government moved to impose its control over the country's security forces and state institutions on Wednesday, firing dozens of senior allies of fallen dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi's new administration axed 30 top police officials, appointed a top military officer to head up the national security service and named new chiefs for seven key regions in the country.
It also fired all 24 of the country's governors along with the bosses of several state-owned bodies, including the national radio and Internet agency, the official TAP news agency reported.
Ghannouchi said the situation in the country was stabilising and called on Tunisians to resume normal life.
"The government calls on you to preserve its independence by going back to work, otherwise the country risks collapse," he said in televised remarks.
Admiral Ahmed Chabir, the new director of national security, has been charged with sweeping away Ben Ali stalwarts from key positions.
He must also get thousands of police officers, who deserted the streets as the popular uprising swept Ben Ali from power, back on post.
In a first step, the interim government approved wage rises for the country's beleaguered police service.
Protesters blame the police for brutal and sometimes deadly attacks on demonstrators during the uprising that saw 219 people killed according to the United Nations.
Meanwhile from Brussels, Tunisia's new foreign minister said it was up to an "independent" judiciary to deal with claims of misappropriation by Ben Ali and his associates.
"The affair concerns a judiciary which at last is independent, which must do its work at its own pace," Ahmed Abderraouf Ounais said, during his first foreign trip as top envoy.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she would head to Tunisia later this month to discuss possible European aid to the North African country.
Tunisia's newspapers have backed the new administration's bid to restore order, drawing a clear link between democracy and security.
"The return of the police officer, this soldier of democracy, to the streets after an eclipse which has thrown the country into alarm and disarray, will restore confidence to Tunisians," said an editorial in Le Quotidien.
But with 100,000 police officers having been members of Ben Ali's now-reviled Constitutional Democratic Assembly (RCD) party -- which had two million members in all -- cleaning house will be no easy task.
The RCD were the eyes and ears of the old regime and enforced the former dictator's repressive rule.
In contrast, the army, which supported the uprising by refusing to fire on the protesters, has only 35,000 men, mainly posted along the country's borders.
On national television late Tuesday, newly appointed Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi sketched an alarming picture of the powerful forces still lined up against the new administration.
He said a mob of up to 3,000 people had attacked his ministry late Monday and that 50 people arrested after the attack had later been released, showing collusion with security forces.
Meanwhile Canada's opposition parties on Wednesday urged Ottawa to sign an emergency extradition treaty with Tunisia and expel Ben Ali's billionaire brother-in-law.
The opposition Liberal party joined with members of Canada's Tunisian expatriate community to call for the government to ensure the extradition of Belhassen Trabelsi, the eldest brother of Ben Ali's wife. He reportedly arrived in Montreal with his wife, children and a nanny aboard a private jet last month.
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