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3868Troops battle ex-ruler's bodyguards in Tunisia

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  • Greg Cannon
    Jan 16, 2011

      Troops battle ex-ruler's bodyguards in Tunisia
      From Rima Maktabi, CNN
      January 16, 2011 -- Updated 1931 GMT (0331 HKT)

      Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) -- Tunisia's army clashed with armed gangs in the capital and remnants of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's personal guard Sunday as an opposition figure said leaders have agreed on a new government.
      Government troops appeared to have retaken the presidential palace in the seaside suburb of Carthage by Sunday evening, but sporadic gunfire continued around the neighborhood as night fell, said Mohamad Guiga, a nearby resident.
      "It is a battle zone," Guiga told CNN by telephone from his home, about 1 kilometer away from the palace. "From time to time, we hear some shooting. The fire is very clear," he added.
      Tanks patrolled the streets of Tunis on Sunday, two days after enraged protesters caused Ben Ali to flee the country. Troops exchanged gunfire with armed gangs near a metro station near the headquarters of an opposition party, said Abdel Latif Abid, a human rights lawyer and an opposition party founder.
      But Abid said a unity government led by Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi was expected to be announced Monday, with three opposition leaders holding posts in the government. Among those he said would be joining the government was Mustapha Ben Jafar, who is expected to serve as health minister.
      Jafar said earlier that opposition leaders don't want to be a fig leaf for the ruling party, but want an active role in running Tunisia after more than two decades of authoritarian rule.
      "The most important thing for me is to build during this period the basis for a democratic Tunisia where all the citizens participate and where we can build a civic society -- this I what I spent 40 years of my life working for," Jafar said.
      Police also arrested more people, including looters and some of the deposed president's relatives. Imed Trabelsi, the nephew of the ousted president, was detained along with 23 other relatives, state-run Tunis TV reported.
      The head of Ben Ali's security was also arrested, according to Tunis TV.
      Tunisians have been protesting for days over what they consider poor living conditions, high unemployment, government corruption and repression.
      Citizens called for the ouster of Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after ruling the country for 23 years.
      The wave of rallies was stirred by the suicide of an unemployed college graduate, who torched himself last month after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting off his source of income.
      Tensions remained high Sunday as Tunisians armed with sticks and knives formed groups to guard their neighborhoods. They stopped suspicious cars near their homes, saying security forces did not have the manpower to guard the suburbs.
      A French photojournalist died in Tunis Sunday morning, according to his uncle, who said Lucas Mebrouk Dolega "was dedicated to his career and he was always very brave."
      "He was at the heart of major events happening around the world," Hamid Lhorri told CNN, though he did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his nephew's death.
      Despite the instability, there was a glimmer of good news.
      Tunisians experienced newfound freedoms online as the acting president, Fouad Mebazaa, took over Saturday. The former parliamentary speaker promised to restore stability and respect the constitution of the north African country, words echoed by the opposition's Jafar.
      "We will be loyal to this noble people and youth that put fear aside and went down to the streets asking for reforms we have been asking the government for during the past 20 years since Ben Ali assumed power," Jafar said.
      Filters on social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube, put in place under Ben Ali, were dropped.
      Internet speed picked up considerably -- a development that followed the new government's vow to ease restrictions on freedoms.
      Some top regional officials remained wary as protests swept over the nation, with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi saying he was "sad and hurt" by the developments. He blamed the unrest on criminal gangs.
      "Sadly, Tunisia is headed to more chaos, and we do not know how it will end," he said. "I hope your sanity returns and your wounds heal, because you had a big loss that will never return."
      Tunisian state TV reported that officials plan to hold presidential elections in 60 days.
      The pro-Western nation supports U.S. policy in the Middle East and its efforts against terrorism. President Barack Obama has condemned the use of force on protesters and called for free and fair elections.
      CNN's Ben Wedeman and Matt Smith contributed to this report.