Sabtu, 22 Januari 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Shooting probe pledged as protests target Tunisia PM

Posted: 22 Jan 2011 03:49 PM PST

A woman mourns during a vigil for the people killed during the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in Tunis, January 22, 2011. — Reuters pic

TUNIS, Jan 23 — Tunisian protesters demanded the departure of the embattled prime minister yesterday, and an investigator promised to uncover the interior ministry's role in this month's shooting of scores of unarmed demonstrators.

Emboldened by their overthrow of the president a week ago in a "Jasmine Revolution," marchers took to the streets to try to force out his lieutenants.

Not satisfied with his pledge to quit once free elections can be held, hundreds surged past a half-hearted police cordon at the office of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. One banner read: "No place for men of tyranny in a unity government."

Ghannouchi, who stayed on to head a would-be unity coalition after strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled on January 14, made an emotional late-night plea for patience on television on Friday. He portrayed himself as a fellow victim and pledged to end his political career as soon as he could organise elections.

But as he met cabinet colleagues on Saturday, thousands — including many policemen — took to the streets of Tunis and other towns to keep up the protest momentum and reject what many deride as Ghannouchi's token attempt to co-opt a handful of little-known dissidents into his government.

One demonstrator outside the premier's office said: "We want to tell Mr Ghannouchi the definition of 'revolution' — it means a radical change, not keeping on the same prime minister."

The toppling of an authoritarian ruler by waves of street protests has transfixed Arabs across North Africa and the Middle East. The underlying problems of unemployment and corrupt rule are common across the region, and its leaders — many supported by Western powers as bulwarks against radical Islam — are watching anxiously as events in Tunisia unfold.

In neighbouring Algeria, still scarred by an Islamist revolt in the 1990s against the ruling party, police used batons yesterday to stop a gathering by an opposition group.

In Saudi Arabia, a man burned himself to death. It was not clear if he was, like numerous others in Egypt and elsewhere, inspired by the self-immolation of a Tunisian vegetable seller whose desperate act last month launched the wave of protests.

In Tunis, a man died after setting himself on fire outside a telephone company. It was not clear what his motive was.

The heads of three commissions established by Tunisia's interim government this week said they would overhaul the country's laws and examine the interior ministry's role in the shooting of protesters.

"We saw in some cases shots had been directed to the head or to the chest... We will look into the reason those who held guns or knives struck those with empty hands who called for bread and freedom," said Taoufik Bouderbala, head of the National Commission to Investigate Abuses.

"We will accuse no one. We will check the facts... but we will ask who gave permission to those who opened fire?"

Tunisia's interior minister has given a death toll of 78 since the start of the demonstrations, but the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put the number at 117, including 70 killed by live fire.

It is unclear when elections for president and parliament might be held. But leaders of secular and Islamist opposition groups, harshly repressed under Ben Ali's rule, are rushing to re-enter the political fray.

Rached Ghannouchi, exiled leader of the banned Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement, told Al Jazeera his movement supported the democratic trend and should not be feared: "We are a moderate Islamic movement, a democratic movement based on democratic ideals in ... Islamic culture," he said.

Moncef Marzouki, a secular dissident who returned from exile in Paris and hopes to run for president, urged the appointment of a new, independent prime minister. He said premier Ghannouchi's presence was hampering, not helping, efforts to restore stability.

But mindful of the dozens of deaths this month and of the thirst for retribution against Ben Ali's clan and the organs of his police state, Marzouki urged those in the streets to stay calm.

"The great thing is that this revolution has been peaceful," he said. "Please continue this way and don't get into revenge."

Even policemen, once the feared blunt instrument of Ben Ali's 24-year rule, were declaring changed loyalties. In Tunis thousands joined in a chant of "We are innocent of the blood of the martyrs!" at a rally to show their support for the revolt.

Clearly under pressure, Prime Minister Ghannouchi said on television late on Friday: "I lived like Tunisians and I feared like Tunisians." He added: "I pledge to stop all my political activity after my period leading the transitional government."

The response of the street protesters was scornful: "Since 1990, Ghannouchi has been finance minister, then prime minister," said student Firass Hermassi outside Ghannouchi's office. "He knows everything, he's an accomplice." — Reuters


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Cowen quits as party leader, stays Irish PM

Posted: 22 Jan 2011 03:41 PM PST

Cowen announces his intention to step down as leader of Fianna Fail, in Dublin January 22, 2011. — Reuters pic

DUBLIN, Jan 23 — Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen bowed to pressure from members of the Fianna Fail party yesterday and resigned as its leader, but said he would serve as premier until a March 11 election.

Cowen's decision to split the role of party leader and prime minister is highly unusual and crowns a week of political drama that had Irish people shaking their heads in anger.

The most unpopular premier in recent history, Cowen is blamed for mishandling the economic crisis and allowing a disastrous property bubble to develop during a previous stint as finance minister.

The meltdown that ensued forced the country to accept an €85 billion (RM340 billion) bailout from the EU and IMF late last year.

"He should have gone months ago to preserve some kind of dignity for himself and for the office," said Tony Moore, a vegetable delivery man in central Dublin. "Just look at the country's standing abroad, we're a laughing stock."

Under pressure from his party for weeks, Cowen called a vote of confidence in his leadership at the start of the week.

He won, but then squandered the victory a few days later when an ill-judged attempt to reshuffle his cabinet nearly brought down his administration.

"This is the right thing to do for the party," Cowen said at a hastily arranged address to the media at a Dublin hotel.

"We will manage the situation and people need to be assured of that. The government will discharge its duties properly and appropriately. It doesn't in any way affect government business."

Enda Kenny, the leader of the main opposition party, Fine Gael, slammed Cowen's move and said he would table a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister on Tuesday unless he called an immediate election. A vote on the motion would likely be held later in the week.

The government already faces a no-confidence motion on Wednesday and national broadcaster RTE quoted one Fianna Fail MP as saying he would find it hard to back the government while the two independents whose support it relies on were undecided.

Analysts said given its fragile majority of just two seats and disgruntled membership there was no guarantee the administration would make it through the votes.

"All we know is we are going to get an election on or before March 11 but that is about it," said Micheal Marsh, professor of politics at Trinity College Dublin, calling the events of the past week "bizarre."

"If the conditions in which all of this was going on were not so serious it really would be farcical."

Cowen lost the support of his party after trying to promote people to his cabinet this week in an apparent attempt to shore up their re-election chances.

His junior coalition party, the Greens, said the move was "the final insult" and threatened to pull out of the government unless he abandoned the strategy and called a March election.

Cowen's party is set for a record rout in the poll after agreeing to deep spending cuts and tax hikes as part of the humiliating bailout deal.

Under the terms of the rescue, Ireland has to tackle the worst budget deficit in Europe and Cowen said that by remaining on as premier he would ensure the final piece of legislation underpinning his 2011 austerity budget would be passed.

Fine Gael said it would drop its no-confidence vote if Cowen rushed the bill through this week and brought forward the poll.

A contest for Fianna Fail leader will be held on Wednesday with finance minister Brian Lenihan, social protection minister Eamon O'Cuiv, tourism minister Mary Hanafin and former foreign minister Micheal Martin all putting their names forward.

Martin came out publicly against Cowen before the secret party vote on his leadership on Tuesday. When Cowen won the ballot, Martin left the government.

Lenihan stunned backbenchers with his public declaration of support for Cowen after many assumed he would follow through on private criticisms of the prime minister's leadership.

A clutch of Fianna Fail MPs said on Saturday they would support Martin as leader and Irish bookmakers Paddy Power said he was a 1/14 favourite to take over, meaning gamblers would win just one euro if they put down a €14 bet.

Lenihan is second favourite at 6/1.

Whoever wins, it could be a poisoned chalice. Fianna Fail, in power for 20 of the last 23 years, could lose over half its 74 parliamentary seats, according to opinion polls, consigning it to the opposition benches for years.

Trinity's Marsh said there was a risk that Fianna Fail could end up as the fourth strongest party in parliament after the vote, behind the hard-left nationalist Sinn Fein party.

Opinion polls suggest a coalition of the centre-right Fine Gael party and the centre-left Labour party will form the next coalition government. — Reuters

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