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Tunisian opposition leader returns from exile

Protester throws a tear gas canister back at riot police after they broke up a demonstration in downtown Tunis
Protester throws a tear gas canister back at riot police after they broke up a demonstration in downtown Tunis Reuters

Tunisian opposition leader Moncef Marzouki was greeted by ecstatic fans as he returned home after years in exile in Paris. Tunisia’s interim has run into trouble only 24 hours after its formation as three ministers quit, citing disagreements with the new leadership.


"The revolution must continue!" were Marzouki’s first words to the crowd as he emerged from the arrivals area of Tunis-Carthage airport. Women kissed him, and a group of male supporters gave him a Tunisian flag and lifted him on to their shoulders.

Marzouki, who is head of the banned Congress for the Republic party, says he is running for upcoming elections in Tunisia. He is little known to the general public as the Ben Ali regime banned his party and did not allow him access to the media.

He called on Saudi Arabia to give Ben Ali up and said the president's ruling RCD party should be broken up, the official TAP news agency added.

"There is a feeling of national pride ... It is a great joy to see that the big mafia that ruled this country and was supported by certain people, is now fleeing, while now I, who had to flee, who was a fugitive, am welcomed by my people."

He also said the first thing he wanted to do is to travel to Sidi Bouzid, the city in central Tunisia where protests, which ultimately led to Ben Ali’s downfall, started. In December, a graduate committed suicide in Sidi Bouzid when the police prevented him from selling fruit and vegetables.

Supporters greeted Marzouki with placards saying “Free Tunisia! Out with the RCD”.

"I will do everything possible to ensure a real peaceful and democratic transition in this country," Marzouki said. "We need to have a real coalition government ... and to hold real elections."

On Tuesday, three ministers belonging to the country’s new interim government resigned, refusing to recognise the country’s new leadership.

Following President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s flight last week, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi formed a unity government, but handed the cabinet's key ministries to allies of the deposed president.

“Twelve ministers in this new cabinet were already ministers under Ben Ali,” says UGTT trade unionist Abid Brigui. “They conducted his policies and this runs contrary to the people's will.”

“We didn't say that we didn't want the ruling RCD party in this new cabinet, but we said that others also need to be represented,” Brigui said. “That's not the case, therefore, we've decided to pull out.”

Houssine Dimassi, who had been named minister for training and employment in a transitional unity government unveiled on Monday, was one of the three ministers to stand down.

Dimassi said the two other ministers resigning were Abdeljelil Bedoui, who was named as a minister working in the prime minister's office, and Anouar Ben Gueddour, a junior transport minister.


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