Tunisian prime minister announces resignation

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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s embattled prime minister said Sunday that he will resign, bowing to a key demand of protesters after at least five people died in a groundswell of new unrest in this North African country.

Mohamed Ghannouchi, 69, has been a major irritant to Tunisians behind the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” that toppled autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month and sparked a wave of upheaval in the Arab world.

“This (resignation) is not a flight from my responsibilities, but to open the way for another prime minister who, I hope, will have more margin for action than I have had, to give hope to the Tunisian people,” Mr. Ghannouchi said. He didn’t say when the resignation would take effect.

Even though Mr. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, Mr. Ghannouchi, who served for 11 years as his prime minister, had promised to stay on to guide the country until elections expected no later than mid-July.

Mr. Ghannouchi’s announcement came against the backdrop of renewed street protests like those that brought Mr. Ben Ali down.

On Sunday, officials said that at least five people had died during violent street protests since Friday.

“I am not ready to be the man of repression, and I will never be,” Mr. Ghannouchi said, warning that unspecified forces appeared to be swelling to try to quash the move toward democracy.

“There are signs that a plot is being hatched to cause the revolution to fail,” he said without specifying.

Some Tunisians believe that Ben Ali loyalists still in the country have sought to sow discord and discredit the movement that brought the former authoritarian leader down.

“There needs to be reconciliation among all Tunisians to show the world that Tunisia is a civilized country,” Mr. Ghannouchi said. “My resignation will help create this new atmosphere.”

The Interior Ministry, in a statement Saturday, blamed “provocateurs” for fomenting violence in otherwise peaceful rallies and for allegedly using young people as human shields in renewed demonstrations.

On Saturday, police and troops backed by tanks used tear gas to disperse hundreds of youths protesting against the caretaker government. Officers were seen chasing some youths through town after the rally ended.

Authorities then ordered a temporarily ban on vehicle and pedestrian traffic on the capital’s central Bourguiba Avenue until midnight Sunday — the first of its kind since Mr. Ben Ali’s downfall.

On Friday, police fired tear gas and warning shots as violence erupted alongside a sit-in that drew tens of thousands of protesters near the seat of the interim government.

Officials said nearly 200 people have been arrested over the past two days.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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