Gunfights Break Out in Tunisian Capital as Future of Country Remains Uncertain

Interim president says that presidential election should be held within 60 days, however, opposition parties fear two months is insufficient to campaign, asking for assurances that elections will be free and fair.

Tunisian politicians tried to form a unity government on Sunday but the relative calm enforced by the army two days after the president was ousted was broken by a gunfight outside an opposition party's headquarters.

According to Issam Chebbi, a senior member of the main opposition party PDP, the gunfight broke out between security forces and unidentified attackers. A big crowd gathered in front of the building and heavy security was deployed in the area.

The PDP party said police and military stopped a carload of armed men, whom it described as foreigners, and shots were fired. Security forces pursued the gunmen into nearby apartment buildings.

Shortly after this, gunshots were heard in central Tunis near the Interior Ministry. The source of the shots was unclear.

Later on Sunday, state television reported that Tunisian security forces fought a gun battle with gunmen stationed on a rooftop near the central bank headquarters in the capital.

Military and police sources said security forces had killed the gunmen.

The speaker of parliament Fouad Mebazza, sworn in as interim president, has asked Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi to form a government of national unity and constitutional authorities and has said that a presidential election should be held within 60 days.

There have, however, been complaints that two months will not suffice, and it is therefore unclear when the new elections will actually take place.

Opposition parties want assurances that presidential elections will be free, that they will have enough time to campaign, that the country will move towards greater democracy
and that the power of the ruling RCD party will be loosened.

Ghannouchi was due to hold more talks on Sunday to try to fill the vacuum left when Ben Ali, president for more than 23 years, fled to Saudi Arabia following a month of protests over
poverty, jobs and repression that claimed scores of lives.

While there have been relatively positive noises from the talks so far, the negotiations may run into trouble when they get down to the detail of which parties get which cabinet post
and how many of the old guard are included.

The ousting of Tunisia's president after widespread protests could embolden Arab opposition movements and citizens to challenge entrenched governments across the Middle East.

Hamas supporters rallied in Gaza holding large posters of Ben Ali bearing the words: "Oh, Arab leaders, learn the lesson."

Tunisia - Reuters - Jan. 15, 2011