Tunisian president removes ministers after protests

He also orders for an emergency job program


Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali removed his communications minister on Wednesday in a cabinet reshuffle following violent protests in the north African country, his government said.

Oussama Romdhani will be replaced at the communications ministry by Samir Abidi, the minister for youth and sport, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced.

New ministers were also appointed for trade and handicrafts, religious affairs and communication, the official TAP news agency reported.

Ben Ali has also instructed the government to work with the private sector to put in place "an emergency program" to create jobs and provide "means of subsistence" for youths who have been out of work for long periods.

"Regional development is to become a permanent topic on the agenda of the council of ministers," TAP added. Calls for an even allocation of resources to different regions of the country has been a mantra for protesters in recent days.

Muammar Gaddafi, leader of more prosperous neighbor Libya, on Tuesday ordered easier entry procedures for jobless Tunisians after he held talks with Ben Ali over the telephone, Libyan official media reported.

It was the second time Ben Ali had reshuffled his cabinet this year. More significant changes were made in January with the appointment of new finance, defense and foreign affairs ministers.

The opposition Democratic Progressive Party, which does not have a seat in parliament, had earlier called for the sacking of Romdhani and the country's interior minister.

Ben Ali said on Tuesday he was concerned by recent tension in the Sidi Bouzid region, which has been linked to the high youth unemployment rate.

Tensions flared on December 17 when a 26-year-old man who was selling fruit and vegetables on the streets set himself on fire after police confiscated his produce.

One protestor died in clashes between mostly unemployed youths and government security forces on December 24.

Protests have been rare in Tunisia, which has been run for 23 years by Ben Ali and works closely with Western governments to combat al-Qaeda militants, but have been gathering force in recent weeks.

The government accused its opponents on Monday of manipulating the clashes in Sidi Bouzid between police and young people on Dec. 19 and 20 to discredit the authorities.

Tunisia has become a regional focus of attention for financial institutions since announcing a plan to complete current account convertibility during 2010-12, and full dinar convertibility in 2013-14.

Tunisia remains prosperous compared with its African peers, but several international right groups say its government crushes dissent, an accusation it denies.