TUNIS // Shouting Tunisian protesters smashed police cars after they were hit by tear gas as tensions resumed today in the capital of a country struggling to stabilise itself after the president was overthrown.
After an overnight "sleep-in" in defiance of the country's curfew, scores of protesters from Tunisian provinces gathered in front of the prime minister's office this morning, shouting anti-government slogans. As the crowd grew rowdy, police fired tear gas grenades in the air.
Demonstrators covered their faces with Tunisian flags to protect themselves from the acrid clouds. They shattered the windows of police cars, sending shards of glass into the empty cars and onto the ground.
Schools were set to reopen today after protracted closure because of the unrest, but teachers went on strike. Some students joined the demonstrations instead of heading to their classrooms.
The protesters are angry that holdovers from former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime hold leading posts in the interim government in place since last week. Mr Ben Ali fled the country ten days ago after 23 years in power, pushed out by weeks of deadly protests driven by anger over joblessness, corruption and repression.
Noisy street demonstrations have continued since Mr Ben Ali's departure, but most have been peaceful.
State TV also reported Monday that a former Ben Ali political adviser who had been sought by police, Abdelwaheb Abdallah, has been located and placed under house arrest.
Police have cracked down on key allies of the ousted president, placing two high-ranking officials under house arrest and detaining the head of a well-known private TV station for allegedly trying to slow down the country's nascent steps toward democracy.
Prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took that post in 1999 under Mr Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has promised to quit politics after upcoming elections. But he has insisted that he needs to stay on to shepherd Tunisia through a transition to democracy. Many other cabinet members are also Ben Ali-era holdovers.
In Tunisia's former colonial overseer, France, President Nicolas Sarkozy today paid tribute to a French photographer killed in the protests. Some 78 civilians have been killed, many shot by police, according to the government's official count. The opposition says the overall toll is much higher.