TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane has resigned from the interim government, state television said on Thursday, after days of protests demanding the cabinet be purged of members of the former ruling party.
Protesters, who earlier stormed police barricades in the Tunisian capital, had insisted the government dismiss key loyalists of ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.
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.
Foreign minister Morjane quit Ben Ali’s RCD party last week but that had not proved enough to appease protesters.
There was no immediate word on the fate of the interior and defence ministers, who political sources had said were also expected to be replaced.
On Thursday, thousands of demonstrators thronged the city’s main boulevard, Bourguiba Avenue, demanding that the government resign. Earlier, protesters broke through police lines outside the prime minister’s office, where hundreds of demonstrators have pledged to camp out until the government resigns.
It remained unclear whether the protesters would accept a new ministerial line-up.
“If the new cabinet line-up remains dominated by figures close to the ousted regime, further demonstrations — either spontaneous or fomented by the labour union — are likely,” Eurasia group analyst Mohammed El Katiri said.
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.
In addition to the cabinet reshuffle, Tunisia is aiming to set up a council of “wise men” to guide the country to democracy from the authoritarian state run by Ben Ali.
Veteran politician Ahmed Mestiri, a prominent figure during the era of Tunisia’s independence leader Habib Bourguiba, said he hoped to head the council.
“The council would protect the revolt that broke out spontaneously. The time has come for the process to be structured,” Mestiri, 80, said in an interview on Wednesday.
Amnesty International said that it had established that security forces used disproportionate force to disperse protesters and in some cases fired on fleeing protesters and bystanders.
The human rights group said doctors’ testimonies seen by its researchers show that some protesters were shot from behind, indicating that they were fleeing. Others were killed by single shots to the chest or head, suggesting deliberate intent to kill.
“This shocking evidence confirms that the Tunisian security forces were using lethal methods to quell discontent and to deter protesters,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East North Africa Programme.
In the unrest that brought down Ben Ali, the United Nations has said that 117 died, including 70 killed by gunfire.
A U.N. human rights team begins work in Tunisia later on Thursday. The 8-strong team will investigate past violations and advise the interim government on justice and reforms.
Tunisia’s interim government has begun to compensate the families of those killed or wounded in weeks of protests, the state news agency said.