Amid unrest, Tunisia awaits a unity government (VIDEO)


[Update, Jan. 17, 12:10 P.M.: Tunisia's prime minister announced a new coalition government Monday, as security forces used water cannon and tear gas to repel protesters in the country's capital, Tunis.]

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has promised "to open a new page" in the riot-torn country with the formation of a unity government on Monday.

However, interim leaders struggled to impose order following the ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Friday. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, after first being denied asylum in France, after 23 years in power.

Dozens of people have died in a month of clashes that were initially between police and protesters angry about repression, corruption, high unemployment and basic living conditions, but now appear to be between police and Ben Ali loyalists.

Major gun battles erupted on Sunday as the army fought with members of Ben Ali's presidential guard near the palace in Carthage — a wealthy suburb and archeological site north of Tunis city center on the Mediterranean coast.

Government talks with legal political parties — excluding the Communist and Islamist parties banned under Ben Ali — were held on Sunday as fierce gun battles broke out in Tunis.

Police on Sunday arrested 24 relatives of the deposed president, including Imed Trabelsi, Ben Ali's nephew, Tunis TV reported.

"Tomorrow we will announce the new government which will open a new page in the history of Tunisia," Ghannouchi said on state TV on Sunday.

Ghannouchi, a former close ally of Ben Ali, is set to stay on, Agence France-Presse reported, as is the speaker of parliament, Foued Mebazaa, who took over as interim president.

The government is set to include ministers from the old regime, members of the opposition and independent figures, an opposition leader said.

Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held in two months.

Meanwhile, outbreaks of looting were reported as shortages of essentials such as milk, bread and fresh fish threatened Monday to worsen the situation.

And an Egyptian has set himself ablaze in Cairo in an apparent protest outside the parliament building.

The self-immolation and death last month of an unemployed 26-year-old man in Tunisia was said to have triggered the protests that led to the current crisis.

In Algeria, a man died on Sunday after setting himself on fire at a government building, reportedly after a meeting with the mayor, who was unable to provide him with a job and a house. About 100 young men protested over Mohsen's death in the town, 700 km east of Algiers. 

GlobalPost's Jon Jensen reported that events like these have become more common across the Arab world since the ouster of Ben Ali, posing a threat to the leaders of some Arab autocracies who might be beginning to show signs of compromise.

Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, said Sunday that he regretted the fall of Ben Ali, which had left the country in "chaos with no end in sight," Al Jazeera reported.

Gaddafi said the Tunisian people were the "victims of lies" broadcast on the internet which had played a large part in Ben Ali's ouster, adding that Tunisia was suffering bloodshed and lawlessness because its people were in too much of a rush to get rid of their president.

"You have suffered a great loss ... There is none better than Zine [El Abidine Ben Ali] to govern Tunisia," he said in a speech broadcast on state radio and television on Saturday.

"I do not only hope that he stays until 2014, but for life," he said, stressing that he considered Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday, still to be the "legal president of Tunisia under the constitution."

He said Ben Ali did good things for Tunisia, hailing his handling of the country's economy.

"Tunisia, a developed country that is a tourist destination, is becoming prey to hooded gangs, to thefts and fire," he said.

Amid the unrest Sunday, at least three Swedish nationals who were returning from a hunting trip were taken into police custody and some others were unaccounted for, Cecilia Julin, a spokeswoman for Sweden's Foreign Office, told CNN. The group of 13 Swedes had been hunting wild boar. Their taxis were stopped while they were returning to their hotel in Tunis, Julin said.