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Ministers quit Tunisia party

Tunis, Jan. 20: In Tunisia’s continuing tumult, security forces fired warning shots in the air today as protesters paraded outside the headquarters of the former ruling party demanding that the country break decisively with the symbols and structures of its past under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted President.

The protests seemed to be taking their toll.

State television said all eight ministers in Tunisia’s interim unity government who had previously been linked to Ben Ali’s party had resigned. Later, the broadcaster reported that the party’s once-powerful central committee had been dissolved because many of its members who were in the new government had quit. Ben Ali fled into exile in Saudi Arabia last week, ending 23 years of increasingly autocratic rule.

Several hundred largely peaceful demonstrators, including some with children and some women wearing Islamic headgear, paraded past the interior ministry and the deserted-looking headquarters of Ben Ali’s former party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally.

The high-rise, glass-flanked building soars over central Tunis, but its parking lot was occupied today only by soldiers backed by armoured vehicles mounted with machine guns.

At one point, reflecting a widespread clamour to be rid of the symbols of Ben Ali’s rule, the crowd surged towards a high padlocked gate demanding that the party’s sign be torn from the building.

But an army officer, who did not identify himself to the demonstrators, told them through a bull horn: “This building does not belong to the party. It belongs to the people.”

The protesters chanted, “Better bread and water than the RDC.”.

As the demonstration continued, Reuters said, police officers fired shots into the air to try to disperse the protesters, but they refused to give ground. Other reports said the army opened fire into the air as the numbers swelled and protesters tore down the party emblem from the building.

Opposition to the old guard also seemed to be spreading far from the capital. In the town of Gafsa, about 321km south of Tunis, 3,000 to 4,000 people gathered to demand the ouster of ministers who worked with Ben Ali.

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