Posted: 08 Feb 2011 07:23 AM PST
TUNIS (Reuters) - Gunshots were fired in the centre of the Tunisian capital on Tuesday, people in the area said, in a further blow to faltering efforts to restore security after the overthrow of the autocratic president.
Three witnesses told Reuters they heard shooting coming from streets near Avenue Bourguiba, the main thoroughfare in Tunis, but none could see who was responsible.
"I heard sporadic gunfire," one of the witnesses, who was near the Tunis city government building, told Reuters.
Security had seemed to be slowly returning to Tunisia three weeks after a wave of protests forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for 23 years, to flee to Saudi Arabia.
But in the past few days violence has flared up again, with at least five people killed since Friday in clashes between police and protesters in provincial towns.
The gunshots on Tuesday were the first time shooting had been heard in the capital for at least two weeks.
The defence ministry ordered army reservists on Monday to report for duty so they could reinforce overstretched police and soldiers trying to keep order.
Tunisia's uprising against Ben Ali's authoritarian rule inspired protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world, notably in Egypt, and its halting progress towards stability is being watched closely in the region.
The European Union, Tunisia's biggest trading partner and a major donor of development aid, said it was putting together an assistance package at the request of the Tunisian authorities.
"The aim of that process is to address first of all the short-term needs of the transition process in Tunisia," European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule told reporters on a visit to the Moroccan capital Rabat.
In a further show of international support, Britain's foreign minister had talks with Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, becoming the most senior Western official to visit since Ben Ali's ouster.
"I think Tunisia is starting to move on from a profound crisis," the minister, William Hague, told a news conference.
"We are witnessing a moment of opportunity here in Tunisia and in many other countries, an opportunity which should be seized rather than feared."
But in a sign that turmoil had spread to the Tunisian leadership, Hague did not meet his opposite number Ahmed Ounaiss because he is embroiled in a dispute over his future.
Workers at the Tunisian Foreign Ministry were on strike for a second day to demand that Ounaiss step down over comments which many Tunisians felt served to show he did not fully support the country's change of ruler.
A source at the ministry, who did not want to be identified, confirmed that Ounaiss did not meet Hague because of internal problems in the ministry.
(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat; editing by Mark Heinrich)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 08 Feb 2011 07:23 AM PST
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptians staged one of their biggest protests yet on Tuesday demanding President Hosni Mubarak step down now, their wrath undiminished by the vice president's announcement of a plan to transfer power.
With the government refusing to budge on the demonstrators' main demands, Vice President Omar Suleiman promised no reprisals against the protesters for their campaign now entering a third week to eject Mubarak after 30 years in office.
Those camped on Cairo's central Tahrir square accused the government of merely playing for time, and swore they would not give up until the current "half revolution" was complete.
Tens of thousands of protesters poured into the square, filling it completely for the third time since the protests began on Jan. 25. Many said it was their first time taking part.
"I came here for the first time today because this cabinet is a failure, Mubarak is still meeting the same ugly faces," said Afaf Naged, 71, a former member of the board of directors of the state-owned National Bank of Egypt. "He can't believe it is over. He is a very stubborn man."
Suleiman, a long-time intelligence chief, has led talks this week with opposition groups including the Muslim Brotherhood -- Mubarak's sworn enemies.
In comments broadcast on state television, Suleiman said: "A clear road map has been put in place with a set timetable to realise the peaceful and organised transfer of power."
So far the government has conceded little ground in the talks. The embattled 82-year-old president, who has promised to stand down when his term expires in September, appears to be weathering the storm engulfing Egypt for the moment at least.
Talks between the government and opposition factions took place on Sunday under the gaze of a giant portrait of Mubarak.
"The president welcomed the national consensus, confirming that we are putting our feet on the right path to getting out of the current crisis," Suleiman said in comments broadcast by state television, after briefing Mubarak on the talks.
Hundreds of thousands joined previous demonstrations and the United Nations says 300 people may have died so far.
"HALF A REVOLUTION"
Many in a country where about 40 percent of people live on less than $2 a day are desperate to return to work and normal life, even some of those wanting to oust Mubarak.
But people on Tahrir Square were sceptical about the talks and suspicious of Mubarak's motives. Youssef Hussein, a 52-year-old tourist driver from Aswan, held up a sign saying: "Dialogue prolongs the life of the regime and gives it the kiss of life. No dialogue until Mubarak leaves."
"This dialogue is just on paper, it is just political manoeuvring to gain time," said Sayed Hagaz from the Nile Delta.
Ayman Farag, a Cairo lawyer, said the protesters' work was far from complete. "What has happened so far is only half a revolution and I hope it will continue to the end," he said.
Some normality is returning to Cairo. Traffic was bumper-to- bumper in the city centre on Tuesday and queues quickly built up at banks, which have so far opened only for restricted hours.
Suleiman promised that the harassment of protesters would end. "The president emphasised that Egypt's youth deserve the appreciation of the nation and issued a directive to prevent them being pursued, harassed or having their right to freedom of expression taken away," he said.
Tuesday's rally and another called for Friday are tests of the protesters' ability to maintain pressure on Mubarak. On Tahrir Square they seemed to be keeping up momentum as new faces joined those camped out and those who have come daily.
Naged, the bank board member who took part in the protests, said she had been inspired by another business figure, Google Inc executive Wael Ghonim, who was freed on Monday after two weeks in which he said state security kept him blindfolded.
Activists say the Ghonim was behind a Facebook group that helped to inspire the protests.
"I am not a symbol or a hero or anything like that, but what happened to me is a crime," he told private Egyptian station Dream TV after his release. "We have to tear down this system based on not being able to speak out."
Google had launched a service to help Egyptians circumvent government Internet restrictions to use the social network Twitter by dialling a telephone number and leaving a voice mail that would then be sent on the online service.
Opposition figures have reported little progress in the talks with the government. The official news agency said Mubarak issued a decree ordering the establishment of a committee to study and propose legal and constitutional amendments, which he has promised as part of his concessions.
The Muslim Brotherhood, by far the best-organised opposition group, said on Monday it could quit negotiations if protesters' demands were not met, including the immediate exit of Mubarak.
The United States, adopting a cautious approach, has urged all sides to allow time for an "orderly transition" to a new political order in Egypt, for decades a strategic ally.
(Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Dina Zayed, Marwa Awad, Andrew Hammond, Alexander Dziadosz, Yasmine Saleh, Sherine El Madany, and Alison Williams in Cairo; Erika Solomon in Dubai; Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Peter Graff)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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