- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TUNIS, Tunisia | At least four ministers slammed the door on Tunisia’s day-old unity government Tuesday, echoing the concerns of demonstrators who insist democratic change is impossible while so many supporters of the freshly ousted president are hoarding posts of power.

Police in riot gear forcefully put down a demonstration of the sort that toppled the North African country’s longtime autocratic leader last week, pummeling a demonstrator with batons and boot kicks - and highlighting a question on many minds: Is the new regime really much different?

As Tunisia struggles to move past the rioting, looting and score-settling that has marked the political transition, there was a growing sense Tuesday that it will be difficult for the interim government to hold together and pave the way toward elections expected within six to seven months.

After the initial exhilaration of last week, when a populist uprising ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power and sent him fleeing to Saudi Arabia, many are fretting about what it ultimately meant.

“I am afraid that our revolution will be stolen from me and my people. The people are asking for freedoms and this new government is not. They are the ones who oppressed the people for 23 years,” said Ines Mawdud, a 22-year-old student who was among protesters at the demonstration.

Tunisia’s outlawed Ennahdha Islamist party said its members also marched Tuesday - something that was unthinkable during the rule of Mr. Ben Ali, who banned the group in 1992 and waged an ongoing crackdown against it. Authorities had accused the group of forming a military wing to kill Mr. Ben Ali and establish a Muslim fundamentalist state. Group leaders said their confessions were extracted through torture.

Hamadi Jebali, a spokesman for the party, told AP it wants “a chance to let the people of Tunisia choose their leaders and to have a chance to accept or reject us via the polls.”

Mr. Ben Ali was often criticized for a heavy-handed crackdown on Islamists and opponents, for curbing civil liberties and for running a police state - though he was praised for turning his country into a successful tourist haven and was an ally in the U.S. fight against terrorism.

In an attempt to distance themselves from Mr. Ben Ali, the country’s interim president and prime minister quit the ruling RCD party on Tuesday. The RCD party also kicked out Mr. Ben Ali, its founder, national television reported. It was not immediately clear how protesters would greet those moves.

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