Tunisia calls up army reservists to confront unrest

TUNIS, Jacques Lhuillery- Tunisia's interim government said Tuesday it had called up reservists to bolster the army as it confronts pockets of unrest and struggles to meet demands for democratic reforms after a popular uprising.
On a visit to Tunisia, British Foreign Secretary William Hague urged the country's caretaker government to push forward with "vital" elections, as the European Union said it was drawing up an assistance plan to help with the transition to democracy after the ouster of leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia calls up army reservists to confront unrest
Soldiers who retired between 2006 and 2010 and conscripts who left the ranks at the end of 2008 and throughout 2009 were told to report to military posts from February 16, a statement from authorities carried by the TAP news agency said.
The army boasts some 45,000 troops, vastly outnumbered by the police and security apparatus of an estimated 100,000 men run by Ben Ali before his ouster.
Some members of the interim government of new Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi have accused Ben Ali loyalists of fomenting unrest against the new leadership in an attempt to derail the transition to democracy.
On Sunday, the government banned Ben Ali's all-powerful Constitutional Democratic Assembly and on Monday parliament approved a law granting decree powers to interim President Foued Mebazaa.
Ahead of the vote Ghannouchi spoke of "dangers" to the transition to democracy following Ben Ali's overthrow on January 14 amid mass protests.
"Time is precious. Tunisia has real need of rule by decree to remove dangers," Ghannouchi said at the first parliamentary session since Ben Ali's overthrow.
Interim authorities have vowed to hold elections within six months but no date has been announced and pressure is growing to move to a vote more quickly.
Pockets of protests have erupted across the country since Ben Ali's ousting and police, closely associated with the hated Ben Ali regime, have played no role in restoring law and order.
That task has been left to the army in recent unrest in Kasserine in central Tunisia, Kef in the northwest and Gafsa in the centre.
The new governor of the Sousse region, 150 kilometres (90 miles) south of Tunis, was on Tuesday prevented from leaving his office by an angry crowd calling for him to resign due to his membership of Ben Ali's party, the TAP agency said in a report.
A number of businesses in Sousse were also looted and vandalised by a group armed with clubs and knives.
Demonstrations calling for the resignation of local governors also took place in the neighbouring town of Monastir and in southern Medenine, the report added.
Some 234 people have been killed during the unrest in Tunisia and 510 have been injured, an official source told AFP on Tuesday. The United Nations last week had put the figure at 219.
During his brief visit, Hague told officials it was "vital elections be held later this year" and that the vote should be "freely contested and fairly administered", according to a foreign office statement.
Hague also announced £5 million ($8 million, 5.9 million euros) in British funding for a new "Arab Partnership Initiative" that will fund democratic reform projects in North Africa and the Middle East.
"It is a time of great opportunity for the Middle East. The courage, dignity and sacrifice of ordinary people in Tunisia in pursuit of universal freedoms that we take for granted has been inspiring," Hague said.
The EU's enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fuele, said during a visit to Morocco Tuesday that Europe was keen to support democratic reforms in Tunisia and across the region, including in Egypt where mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak entered their third week.
"We are currently putting in place a transition package at the request of Tunisian authorities and we want to set priorities... that will allow Tunisia to face up to its new needs," he told reporters in Rabat.
"In regards to Egypt (the EU) has requested the preparation of a broad aid package for this country and for the countries in the region," he said.
In a statement, European Parliament lawmakers who had recently returned from a visit to Tunisia called for a donors' conference to be convened, highlighting youth unemployment estimated as high as 50 percent and a 40 percent tourism revenue slump.

Tuesday, February 8th 2011
Jacques Lhuillery

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