Senior US envoy presses for democracy in Tunisia

TUNIS- A senior US envoy visiting Tunisia on Monday to press for democratic reforms and new elections said Washington was ready to offer support following the ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
"We're prepared to provide any support that would be needed or requested," Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, the top-ranking US official on the Middle East, said after meeting Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane in Tunis.

Senior US envoy presses for democracy in Tunisia
"We have heard the voice of the Tunisian people loud and clear," Feltman said in comments shown on Tunisian state television.
Morjane had been seen by regional experts as Washington's top choice to replace Ben Ali but is now discredited because of his links with the ousted president's family and the widely-reviled RCD ruling party.
Before returning on Wednesday, Feltman was to consult with other senior Tunisian government officials, party leaders, and civil society advocates, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.
"The United States seeks to be supportive in helping with Tunisia's democratic transition, while recognizing that this is a Tunisian-initiated and Tunisian-led process," Crowley said.
Feltman "will discuss ways in which the US can be a constructive partner as Tunisia charts the course toward greater political and social freedoms, works to achieve transparent, credible and timely elections," he added.
Crowley said the United States will also try to help Tunisia as "its government addresses the underlying political and economic grievances that led to the recent unrest."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, the interim Tunisian leader, over the weekend to encourage reforms and pledge Washington's support for the transition to an open democracy.
Ghannouchi is facing mounting pressure to quit as the country's main trade union has mobilized against him and thousands have rallied in the capital Tunis and other cities.
Ghannouchi, prime minister since 1999, says he will resign only after the state holds its first democratic elections. He has said the vote could be held within six months but has not set a date.
Crowley said American NGOs with expertise helping to conduct elections worldwide could aid Tunisia in its preparations for the "vitally important" polls.
"This is a government that is trying hard to respond to the aspirations of its people. We're encouraged by steps it has taken so far. There's a lot of work to be done," he said.
Crowley urged the Tunisian government to continue advances such as opening up political and media freedoms and strengthening dialogue with civil society.
The popular uprising against Ben Ali began after a 26-year-old fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set fire to himself to protest police abuses.
The Arab world's first popular revolt in recent history has inspired copycat self-immolations in Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania and Morocco.
There have also been calls for Tunisia-style protests in Sudan and Yemen.

Tuesday, January 25th 2011

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