Tunisian minister and blogger Amamou defends cabinet

A Tunisian blogger appointed as youth minister has defended the government amid a row over members of the previous regime holding key positions.Slim Amamou, who was released from jail only last week, told the BBC the government was only temporary to help organise elections within six months.Hundreds of chanting demonstrators have again gathered in the capital demanding former officials leave power.The national unity cabinet is reported to have postponed its first meeting.The BBC’s Wyre Davies in Tunis says the country is divided over whether to tolerate the interim government, but if it fails there is concern about what will take its place.The government says 78 people have been killed in protests since mid-December, and set the economy back by $1.6bn euros ($2.2bn).Meanwhile, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has linked the upheaval in Tunisia to deteriorating economic conditions throughout the Arab World.”The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession,” he said at the opening of an Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.Four opponents of the ousted president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, quit the government on Tuesday in protest at the continued domination of his RCD party.

In response, Interim President Fouad Mebazaa and Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi resigned from the former ruling party.Mr Amamou said it was important to have people in the cabinet who know how the wheels of government worked.”Not everybody can be a novice in politics in government like me,” the new youth minister told the BBC’s World Today programme.The internet activist, who only last week tweeted “I’m free” after his release from prison, said he had joined the cabinet “to have first-hand information on what’s happening in the government”.”It’s a temporary government in special conditions – we’re here just to set up elections. It’s not like I was elected,” he said.The BBC’s Lyse Doucet describes the scene on the streets of Tunis.But the dominance of the RCD in the new government has also been condemned by one of Mr Ben Ali’s fiercest critics, CPR party leader Moncef Marzouki, who returned to Tunisia on Tuesday after two decades of exile in Paris.”It’s a government that isn’t one. They have to leave. They don’t represent anything,” he told reporters at Tunis airport amid jubilant scenes. “It is the ontinuation of the dictatorship.””The RCD is a parasite. They exploited the apparatus of the state. When we take them away, the state will function much better.”Luckily, in Tunisia we have a great bureaucracy that can run the state.”Mr Marzouki also urged fellow Tunisians to continue pressing for the complete ejection of RCD members from important positions.

“Don’t let anyone steal this blessed revolution from you,” he said. “Don’t waste the blood of our martyrs.”Correspondents say the crowds gathered in the centre of Tunis faced lines of police but there appears to have been no violence.”Ben Ali has gone to Saudi Arabia. The government should go there too,” the demonstrators shouted, AFP news agency reports.One Tuesday riot police fired tear gas at two protests in central Tunis, one of which was led by Sadok Chourou of the banned Islamist al-Nahda Movement, who was imprisoned for 20 years during Mr Ben Ali’s rule.The leader of al-Nahda, Rached Ghannouchi, will only be allowed to return from exile in London if a life sentence imposed on him in 1991 for plotting against the state is cancelled by an amnesty, according to the prime minister.In an interview with the Financial Times, Rached Ghannouchi said his party espoused a moderate pluralism, and envisioned a society far more liberal and open than Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Al-Nahda had signed a shared statement of principles with the other opposition groups that included freedom of expression, freedom of association and women’s rights, he added.The US has welcomed the new government’s decision to end restrictions on the media and free all political prisoners, but warned that political change in Tunisia must be more fundamental and wide-ranging.”We want to see an open process, significant dialogue between the government and significant groups that want to play a role in Tunisia’s future,” said state department spokesman PJ Crowley.UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has meanwhile renewed his call for “broad-based consultations to establish an inclusive interim government”.He has also expressed his concern about the “growing violence” and urged all efforts to be made to restore peace and stability.Some opposition leaders have expressed fears that a collapse of the national unity cabinet could trigger a military takeover – BBC