Rabu, 26 Januari 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Loyalists of ousted Tunisia leader expected to go

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 05:47 PM PST

A protester olds a riot police shield during clashes with the police near government offices in the Casbah, January 26, 2011. — Reuters pic

TUNIS, Jan 27 — Tunisia has promised to overhaul the lineup of its interim government today, a move expected to see some loyalists of ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali step aside in a bid to end persistent protests.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 when weeks of violent protests against poverty, repression and corruption toppled him after 23 years in power.

Since then, an interim government that includes many former ruling party officials has struggled to impose order.

Protesters have been demanding for days that the makeshift coalition government be purged of Ben Ali's allies. They clashed with police again yesterday.

"The reshuffle will be announced tomorrow, Thursday," government spokesman Taieb Bakouch was quoted as saying on the Tunisian state news agency yesterday. Political sources said the interior, defence and foreign ministers were to be replaced.

Tunisia's uprising has electrified Arabs across the Middle East and North Africa, where many countries share the complaints of poor living standards and authoritarian rule.

Inspired by Tunisia's example, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, clashing with police who fired tear gas and used water cannon.

Tunisia says it is seeking international arrest warrant to bring Ben Ali, his wife and other family members to justice for theft and currency offences during their rule, when those surrounding the president grew wealthy.

"We are asking Interpol to find all those who fled, including the president and this woman (his wife), for trial in Tunisia," Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said.

Despite the clashes, the interim government announced it would reduce the curfew, in place since the revolt, by several hours, effective from last night.

Clashes broke out yesterday near government offices in the old city, or casbah. Riot police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters, mainly teenagers and young men, who threw stones.

The protesters appeared to be Tunisians from the rural hinterland who have been camping out at the government compound.

They shouted at the security forces that they were the "police of Leila," a reference to Ben Ali's unpopular wife, who was seen as having excessive influence and lavish tastes. — Reuters

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Karzai opens Afghan parliament, taunts West

Posted: 26 Jan 2011 05:43 PM PST

Karzai speaks during a ceremony for newly-elected members of parliament in Kabul, January 26, 2011. — Reuters pic

KABUL, Jan 27 — Afghan President Hamid Karzai inaugurated parliament yesterday, ending weeks of political infighting, but took a dig at the West saying "foreign interference" had been a serious problem.

Western diplomats called the event a "big day" for Afghanistan, but the comments exposed the often frayed ties between Karzai and his backers and in private officials warned of a bigger battle ahead between the president and his new parliament.

Afghanistan's government was plunged into political crisis last week when Karzai decided to delay the opening of the assembly by a month so a special poll court he set up could have more time to investigate fraud in the September 18 election.

Washington is pressing Karzai to demonstrate good governance as it looks to withdraw US forces from an unpopular war now in its tenth year, and the latest showdown has renewed concern about the president's credibility as an ally.

Under huge pressure from winning candidates, who threatened to take their seats in parliament this month with or without him, and in the face of criticism from the United Nations and countries supporting Afghanistan with troops and cash, Karzai backed down and agreed to a Wednesday inauguration.

Karzai, who has already accused Western powers of meddling in a fraud-ridden presidential poll that saw him re-elected in 2009, said foreign interference in last year's parliamentary vote was one of the things that sullied the results.

"During the election process we faced serious problems in protecting people's votes, preventing fraud and from the interference of foreigners," Karzai said in his opening speech to members of the assembly shortly before they were sworn in.

"We must 'Afghanise' government institutions and the elections. Undoubtedly, elections convened by the Afghans will be more transparent, less expensive," he said.

The president's relations with the West have often been rocky and tension came to a head last year over the presidential poll.

But the international community needs signs of progress in Afghanistan as it prepares to start handing over security. Karzai still has nearly four years still in office, and is granted wide-ranging powers by the constitution, so his role is key.

The White House welcomed the inauguration. "The United States joins the Afghan people in celebrating today's achievement and we encourage the Afghans to begin an inclusive dialogue on electoral reform," White House spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.

The United Nations, which had expressed "deep concern" last week at Karzai's decision to delay the inauguration, offered a determinedly upbeat interpretation in his latest remarks.

"I think what he meant is that he wants in the future to have much more involvement of the Afghans in their own elections and we agree," said Staffan de Mistura, the top envoy in Kabul.

Karzai's comments appeared to be sparked by criticism over his creation of a special election tribunal, the legality of which has been questioned by diplomats, MPs and rights groups.

The president is thought to be unhappy with the new make-up of the assembly, which although not necessarily united, now faces a more vocal and coherent opposition bloc.

"The special court is key. I think we can expect to see the president using what he says are legal powers to try to remove some parliamentarians," said a senior Western diplomat.

"We are not over this. He will try to do something, if only to weaken legitimacy of parliament," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The United States also said on Tuesday it would "closely monitor" developments in the parliament, suggesting it would keep a close eye out for illegal manoeuvres by either side.

While the West acknowledged there was fraud in the poll they had pushed for the assembly to convene quickly.

Nato, which leads a force of 150,000, also called this week for a "timely opening of parliament" if it were to start handing over security to Afghan forces from February or March.

Karzai wants his forces to take the lead in securing the whole country by the end of 2014, an ambitious plan, but one endorsed by the international community. — Reuters

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