Shots fired as Tunisia remains in turmoil

The Tunisian army fired warning shots in the capital yesterday as demonstrators marched toward the ruling party's headquarters and government ministers quit their party in a desperate attempt to keep their jobs.

Demonstrators have criticised the country's new unity government for being mostly made up of old guard politicians from the ruling party. They are seeking the disbanding of the RCD party, founded by ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after 23 years in power.

Outside the gates of the party headquarters in Tunis, the army fired about 10 rounds into the air, scattering some protesters in the noisy but peaceful crowd. Others remained, chanting, "Down with the RCD!"

The warning shots came after a period of relative calm in Tunisia, which has been rattled by more than a month of unrest over the lack of jobs and corruption in Ben Ali's regime.

Police even let protesters break a curfew to hold a sit-in near the Interior Ministry.

A caretaker government is now struggling to calm the moderate Muslim nation, popular among European tourists and seen as an ally in the West's fight against terrorism.

Although the unity government includes a few opposition leaders for the first time, demonstrators say the big jobs are still in the hands of Ben Ali's cronies.

Members of the interim government who belonged to the longtime ruling party quit the party yesterday, the official TAP news agency said.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and interim President Fouad Mebazaa had already quit the RCD earlier in the week.

The interim government has released all the country's political prisoners and at least 33 members of Ben Ali's family were taken into custody as they tried to flee the country. National prosecutors are investigating overseas assets held by Ben Ali and his relatives.