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Fri 28 Jan 2011 01:37 PM

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Tunisia replaces defence, interior heads in bid to defuse anger

Abedl Karim Zbidi named defence minister, Farhat Arrajhi to head interior ministry

Tunisia replaces defence, interior heads in bid to defuse anger
People came out in large numbers to express their anger over jobs and living standards

Tunisia’s defence and interior ministers were among those replaced by the interim administration as it tries to defuse public anger over the presence of former government members in the new Cabinet.

Abedl Karim Zbidi was named minister of national defence, replacing Ridha Grira, acting Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said in a televised news conference on Thursday in the capital, Tunis. Farhat Arrajhi will head the interior ministry, taking over from Ahmed Friaa, he said. Foreign Minister Ahmed Wenniss takes over from Kamel Morjane. Tunisia’s caretaker government was formed on Jan 17, three days after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

Ben Ali’s ouster followed demonstrations that began with protests over jobs and living standards and escalated into a campaign against his regime, which protesters accused of corruption and human-rights violations. The unrest caused the country’s benchmark Tunindex to slump 13 percent in the week ending Jan 14, the most for at least a decade.

Fitch Ratings on Thursday cut its 2011 growth forecast for Tunisia to 2 percent from 5 percent and said the country’s deficit may widen and that foreign direct investment may drop. Tunisia’s economic recovery may start next year, provided a stable government is established, Charles Seville, a director on Fitch’s sovereign team, said today on a conference call.

Ghannouchi has said elections will take place within the next six months.

Protesters have expressed frustration that the most important posts in the new Cabinet were held by members of Ben Ali’s government. Tunisia’s new government has 40 posts.

Protests have erupted in several Arab states including Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Yemen, which all face high unemployment rates and rising living costs. Riot police were deployed on Wednesday in Cairo after anti-government demonstrations the previous day in which four people were killed.

A total of 78 people died in the Tunisian unrest, according to the government. The UN put the toll at 100.

The unrest erupted after a Tunisian man set himself on fire Dec 17 in the central governorate of Sidi Bouzid, where Tahri said tens of thousands of people demonstrated on Thursday, calling for the interim government’s resignation.

Interpol’s bureau in Tunis issued a global alert seeking the arrest of Ben Ali and six family members on charges of property theft and the illegal transfer of foreign currency, the agency said on Wednesday.