The resignation of three ministers rocked Tunisia’s fledgling unity government today as protesters vented their anger at the new leadership just days after the ouster of the Arab state’s strongman.
The ministers, representing Tunisia’s main trade union, announced their withdrawal after the union refused to recognise an administration that contains eight ministers from president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s discredited regime.
“We are resigning from the government after a call from our union,” said Houssine Dimassi, training and employment minister in the transitional unity government unveiled only on Monday.
Dimassi said the two other ministers resigning were Abdeljelil Bedoui, a minister working in the prime minister’s office, and Anouar Ben Gueddour, a junior transport minister.
Their UGTT labour union held an extraordinary meeting near Tunis earlier on Tuesday at which it decided not to recognise the new government.
The resignations coincided with the return to Tunisia of opposition figure Moncef Marzouki, ending years of exile in Paris.
Marzouki, who said he intends to run in a planned presidential election, on Monday had branded the new government a “masquerade”.
Anger against the new government line-up brought thousands of protesters onto the streets of Tunis and several other cities on Tuesday.
Riot police fired tear gas to break up a rally in Tunis led by key Islamist leader Sadok Chourou, who was imprisoned for 20 years under the old regime.
“The new government does not represent the people and has to fall,” Chourou, 63, ex-leader of the banned Ennahdha (Awakening) movement, told AFP.
Protesters chanted: “We can live on bread and water alone but not with the RCD,” a reference to the former ruling party, which has held on to key posts in the new government including the foreign, defence and interior ministries.
Police also broke up another rally in Tunis amid growing opposition to the government line-up. All public assemblies are officially banned under the rules of a state of emergency declared shortly before disgraced president Ben Ali resigned and fled on Friday.
Thousands more protested in the cities of Sfax and Sidi Bouzid — the city where a wave of social protests against the Ben Ali regime started last month after a 26-year-old vendor set himself on fire in a protest against police.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, one of the eight ministers staying on from the previous government, said on Monday that he and the others had helped “preserve the national interest” during days of chaos in the country.
“They kept their posts because we need them at this time,” Ghannouchi said on French radio Europe 1.
“All of them have clean hands,” he said.
Mr Ghannouchi also said that exiled Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi, who is not a relative of the prime minister, would only be able to return to the North African state from Britain once an amnesty law had been approved.
The popular Islamist was sentenced to life in prison under the old regime for plotting against the state.
As he unveiled the new government and promised parliamentary and presidential elections within six months on Monday, Ghannouchi announced complete media freedom and the release of all political prisoners. (AFP)