March 8, 2011 / 1:43 PM / 9 years ago

Tunis protesters say glad to go back to work

* Tunisians tired of unrest, say happy with concessions

* Protesters leave Kasbah Square, repairs are underway

* Interim govt moves ahead with reforms after Ben Ali ouster

By Mariam Karouny

TUNIS, March 8 (Reuters) - Tunis taxi driver Mahdi says taking part in the mass protests that ousted President Zin al-Abidine Ben Ali was the best thing he ever did.

But almost two months after Ben Ali’s fall, he says it is time to go back to work after the recurring popular unrest that brought Tunis to a standstill and threatened to derail a delicate transition towards democracy.

“This revolution was started to end Ben Ali’s rule and we have achieved that. Now we need to focus on building the country. We need to bring the tourists back and send a positive message to revive the economy,” the 34-year-old said.

His view is shared by many in the seaside capital where, after winning a series of major concessions by the interim authorities, demonstrators who staged protest sit-ins in the Kasbah square packed up their tents and left at the weekend.

“Now we feel happy, the ambiguity has gone and we feel the new prime minister is up to the task,” said Haithem Hioui, a 31-year old artefact seller who had spent the last two weeks in the square next to the seat of government.

“Before we left, we, the youths, agreed that we need to return to work to relaunch the economy,” he said.

Tunisia has struggled to restore stability since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 after 23 years of autocratic rule.

Emboldened by their success in forcing him out, protesters kept up the street pressure, venting their anger at the slow pace of change and demanding a clear break with the past. But after a hesitant start, interim authorities appear to have got their act together.

A caretaker government of technocrats led by Beji Caid Sebsi, a respected figure with no ties to the toppled president, was unveiled on Monday after the collapse of two previous interim administrations which included members of Ben Ali’s old guard.

An election has been called on July 24 to choose a national assembly that will rewrite the constitution. And Ben Ali’s feared secret police services, a domestic spy agency notorious for human rights abuses, have been dismantled.

“The protesters are not there anymore, they left spontaneously and that proves that they trust me. I will not betray their trust,” Caid Sebsi said when asked on Monday if the latest announcements would be enough to placate demonstrators.

By Tuesday, the Kasbah square had been cleaned up and graffiti scrubbed off the walls of the prime minister’s office.

Masons were busy repairing doors and windows smashed by protesters and restoring broken marble steps in the nearby Avenue Bourguiba, the capital’s tree-lined central boulevard.

“Have we won all our rights? No. But I am sure we will in time,” said Meriam, a waitress at a five-star hotel where staff went on strike last month demanding higher wages. “More protests now will not help us move forward.” (Additional reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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