Tunisia Simmers After Sudden Uprisings

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Protests continue in Tunisia after the president was forced to flee the country. NPR's Eric Westervelt travels outside the capital, Tunis, to measure the effects of protests outside the city and sends this report.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Tunisia, street protests continue this weekend against the interim government. Many protestors complain the new leadership still has too many allies of outed dictator Ben Ali. The transitional government has promised to hold new elections as soon as possible. But many in the North African country are insisting on a clean break with the old regime.

NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from the rural town where the revolt started.

ERIC WESTERVELT: The massive street protest that included scores from urban Tunis's educated middle-classes, played a key role in driving autocrat Ben Ali from power.

(Soundbite of chanting protestors)

WESTERVELT: But the revolution began on this dusty main street of Sidi Bouzid, four hours south of the capital.

(Soundbite of chanting protestors)

WESTERVELT: On Saturday, a crowd of young people again marched up what until a few days ago was named in honor of Ben Ali. It's been renamed Mohamed Bouazizi Avenue, after the 26-year-old street vendor who set himself on fire in mid-December in front of the local government building here.

His family say Bouazizi acted after repeatedly being harassed, humiliated and shaken down by a local female inspector and local police. Nearby, large pictures of Bouazizi wearing a slight grin declare him the first light of the revolution.

Twenty-seven-year-old school teacher Amin Bayawi(ph) turned out to protest the first day, and he continues to take to the streets. He says Bouazizi's act quickly symbolized the frustration of all impoverished Tunisians, fed up with rampant corruption, repression and economic stagnation - issues that have hit the opportunity-starved Tunisian interior particularly hard.

Bayawi says, here where it all began, theyll keep the pressure on the interim government to bring about real and lasting change.

(Soundbite of protestors)

Mr. AMIN BAYAWI: The international challenge are making the protest worldwide. All the people speak about the Tunisian revolution. And we dont like to lose this opportunity of democracy. We are going to fight for this revolution to the end.

WESTERVELT: Others are not just worried about the makeup of the interim government. There's fear the army made a quiet coup. The military is in firm control of security. Its tanks and heavy weapons protect all key facilities across the country.

Forty-four-year-old education consultant, Mohaiba Shakir(ph) sees troubling signs, like cryptic announcements on state TV that ex-security chiefs and members of the former dictator's family have been arrested. But there are no details. The army and provisional government, Shakir says, need to show much more transparency about whats really going on.

Ms. MOHAIBA SHAKIR (Education Consultant): To show the people that they are really working for the people. For example, they say that they arrested more than 30 people but we cannot see them on TV. Why not?

WESTERVELT: And the once omnipresent Mukhabarat, the secret police, where have they all gone, she asks? Adding, there are still many questions we want answered.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia.

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