With Former Leader Out, Tunisians Speak Freely Life in the streets seems to be returning to normal nearly a week after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown. But one thing has changed: There's a lot more talking. And unlike in the old days, no topic is taboo.

With Former Leader Out, Tunisians Speak Freely

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

On a Thursday morning, it's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Officials opened an investigation yesterday into the ex-president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, and arrested dozens of his family members for having allegedly plundered millions of dollars.

INSKEEP: Government ministers who'd been part of Ben Ali's ruling party have reportedly quit the party in an effort to distance themselves from the former ruler. The new interim president promised a total break from the past.

MONTAGNE: As Eleanor Beardsley reports, life in the streets has calmed down, but the Tunisian people are no longer afraid to speak out.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Everywhere around Tunis, it seems that people can't stop talking. Cafes are packed with chattering coffee drinkers, while clusters of people engaged in animated discussions block the sidewalks. And unlike the old days, no subject is taboo.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHATTER)

BEARDSLEY: In front of Tunisia's high court, scores of lawyers laugh and converse in the warm January sun. The judicial system was heavily controlled under President Ben Ali, and lawyers here say they feel like they've been released from a sort of prison. Hassan Larbi describes the best part of the revolution.

HASSAN LARBI: Freedom, people can talk freely. They can say whatever they want. We can criticize the government, and that's why we're happy.

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Across town in this working class neighborhood, 28-year-old Bessim Zitouni says he supports the government. He says Ben Ali's henchmen have all fled, and not everyone in the ex-president's party is bad.

BESSIM ZITOUNI: (Through translator) We're in a critical period now, but we're going to come through it. Tunisians have great solidarity. And that will see us through. I know we're going to have a great future.

BEARDSLEY: Omeyya Seddik is a member of the main opposition party in the government. He says they are trying to convince the politicians who resigned from the interim Cabinet to come back. This government must work, he says.

OMEYYA SEDDIK: Unidentified Group: (Chanting in foreign language)

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Tunis.

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