Tunisia leader to have 'new powers'

2011-02-09 14:07

Tunis - Tunisia's Senate was called on Wednesday to grant wide powers to the interim president struggling to restore order to the country following the overthrow of ex-leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi told the upper house ahead of a vote on the measure to follow the lead of the lower house of parliament which on Monday authorised interim president Foued Mebaza to rule by decree.

"We are coming under social pressure because of the demands of the people for improvements to their situation," he told the upper chamber session attended by 86 of the 126 elected members.

"But it has to be taken into account that the state is not yet capable of responding to all these demands. We do not have a magic wand."

If the measure is approved, Mebaza will be empowered to sidestep parliament made up mostly of followers of Ben Ali to decide key issues by decree relating notably to the transition to democracy and the holding of elections within six months.

The transitional government has banned Ben Ali's ruling party, the Constitutional Democratic Assembly, and accused loyalists of the former leader ousted on January 14 of attempting to foment unrest so as to block the transition to democracy.

Mass protests sparked partly by poverty and unemployment erupted across the country last month, resulting in Ben Ali's ouster. Pockets of unrest remain and police, closely associated with the hated Ben Ali regime, have played no role in restoring law and order.

On Tuesday the government called up reservists to bolster the army which has been carrying out security duties to help keep order.

Some 234 people have been killed during the unrest in Tunisia and 510 have been injured, an official source told AFP on Tuesday. The United Nations last week had put the figure at 219.