Tunisian PM Ghannouchi Prepares Unity Government To Halt Chaos


Tunisia's prime minister plans to announce a government of national unity tomorrow in an attempt to stave off chaos following the implosion of two decades of authoritarian rule under President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

As Tunisia's politicians scrambled to restore order, special forces exchanged fire with Ben Ali's former security detail near the presidential palace in Tunis. Tanks were stationed around the capital, and soldiers were guarding public buildings.

Earlier, the relative calm enforced by the army was broken by gunfire near the central bank building and outside an opposition party's headquarters half a mile away. A helicopter was reported to have killed two gunmen on a roof near the bank. As the night curfew approached, residents who had been starting to get back to normal life during the day rebuilt makeshift barricades from branches and rubbish bins to protect their property.

Police arrested dozens of people, including the head of security, Ali Seriati and his deputy, who were charged with conspiring against state security, aggressive acts and ""provoking disorder, murder and pillaging,"" the TAP state news agency reported.

Against the backdrop of sporadic gun battles, the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, promised rapid action to fill the power vacuum and restore order. ""Tomorrow we will announce the new government, which will open a new page in the history of Tunisia,"" he said in a brief statement.

Reuters reported three opposition leaders would take posts in the new coalition, but the current interior and foreign ministers would keep their jobs.

Before Ghannouchi's announcement, Ahmed Ibrahim, head of the opposition Ettajdid party, said: ""The main thing for us right now is to stop all this disorder. We are in agreement on several principles concerning the new government."""