Tunisian minister suspends ex-ruling party

Tunisian protesters who walked from Sidi Bouzid, sit on the ground and distribute oranges from a bag, in front of the prime minister building in Tunis, Sunday Jan. 23, 2011. More than 200 Tunisians who walked or hitchhiked to the North African country's capital are protesting to call for the government to be rid of holdovers from the former president's regime. Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, committed suicide in the central city of Sidi Bouzid last month to protest official harassment under Ben Ali's regime. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

February 7, 2011 3:04:16 AM PST
Tunisia's interior minister on Sunday suspended all activities of the country's former ruling party amid the most serious protests since the country's autocratic ruler fled into exile.

Fahrat Rajhi suspended all meetings of the Democratic Constitutional Rally, known as the RCD, and ordered all party offices or meeting places it owns closed and intends to seek its dissolution, a ministry statement said.

The official TAP news agency, which carried the statement, said the measure was taken because of the "extreme urgency" of the situation, a reference to deadly protests, and to "preserve the higher interests of the nation."

The announcement came hours after crowds pillaged, then burned a police station in the northwestern city of Kef a day after police shot and killed at least two demonstrators.

It was the worst violence in Tunisia since its autocratic president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was forced into exile Jan. 14 after a month of nationwide anti-government protests.

Deadly protests have also erupted in other corners of this North African country, currently run by a caretaker government.

Authorities have been cleaning out traces of the Ben Ali regime, notably eliminating figures connected with the former ruling party - but not fast enough for many citizens. The RCD's activities were not just limited to the political scene. Under Ben Ali's 23 years in power, the party had tentacles in all aspects of Tunisian life.

Among other distrusted entities is the police force, which instilled fear as it carried out the repressive policies of Ben Ali. The move by the interior minister, ultimately in charge of police, could amount to a double gesture to shore up the "people's revolution" in the eyes of many Tunisians.