Saturday, January 22, 2011

State of the Union a 'fundamental moment' for Obama

President Obama plans to use his State of the Union speech Tuesday to articulate a centrist vision that will shape the remaining two years of his term and provide a template for his reelection campaign.

Obama has been moving steadily to the political center since his midterm election drubbing two months ago, agreeing to extend tax cuts for the richest Americans, calling for business-friendly regulations and attempting to repair his relationship with the business community. His speech Tuesday is an opportunity to showcase that transformation, especially for independent voters.

"This is a fundamental, if not the fundamental, moment of the Obama presidency," said Douglas Schoen, who was an advisor to former President Bill Clinton. "He has been moving to the center by fits and starts. But he has yet to declare where he stands and what he wants to accomplish. This is his chance to eschew the partisanship of the first two years, to put himself in the center and be responsive to the mandate that elected him."

In the speech, set for 6 p.m. PST, Obama will lay out the steps he'll take to boost an economy bedeviled by high unemployment, while summarizing the progress made to date, according to White House aides. He will also address the whopping federal debt, a topic that contributed to voter angst in November when Republicans won control of the House.

He will try to plant the idea that things are getting better, but avoid suggesting that troubles are over. With unemployment at 9.4%, no one is apt to believe the economy has recovered.

"You've got to be careful not to take too much credit when people are still feeling pretty bad," said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. "But you also have to put yourself in position to take credit down the road as things do improve."

In a short video preview of his speech on his grass-roots website Organizing for America, Obama said: "My principal focus, my No. 1 focus is going to be making sure that we are competitive, that we are growing and we are creating jobs, not just now but well into the future. I'm focused on making sure the economy is working for everybody."

Building on a theme from his speech in Tucson after the shooting rampage that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), Obama is likely to call for more civility in politics. The conciliatory message is a sharp break from some of Obama's more combative oratory of the last two years, when he said Republicans deserved to take a "back seat" to Democrats.

"This is his opportunity to close the book on the 2010 election and open up the Obama 2012 campaign," said Neil Newhouse, a Republican pollster. "This is his initial opportunity to make the case to voters that he understands the message that they sent last November — that he's listening and he gets it."

Predecessors have faced a similar predicament. Clinton, the last Democratic president, also delivered a high-stakes speech coming off a midterm election debacle.

In 1995, after his party lost control of Congress, Clinton opened his State of the Union address with a pledge to get back in step with voters. In the following year's address, Clinton proclaimed "the era of big government is over." Clinton won reelection that year.

"This is the speech that, if done right, will put [Obama] in the center and allow him to reclaim the mandate he got in 2008," Schoen said. "So this will effectively define his presidency. If he does it, it will inestimably increase his chances of reelection. And if he doesn't, it will be an opportunity lost."

Underscoring the importance of the speech, the White House is using various media tools to pique public interest, beginning with a special website: White House policy experts will take online questions from the public after Obama finishes.

On Thursday, the president will field questions in a live interview on YouTube.

White House senior advisor David Plouffe sent an e-mail to supporters Friday asking them to take part. The e-mail was reminiscent of the many messages Plouffe sent out when, as Obama's 2008 campaign manager, he shared insights into Obama's campaign prospects.

The lead writer for the president's second State of the Union address is Jon Favreau, the chief White House speechwriter and architect of some of Obama's most memorable speeches from the '08 campaign. However, advice is coming in from all directions.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), in a suggestion to Obama's budget director, Jacob Lew, recommended that Obama include a reference to the bipartisan deficit reduction commission, whose final report was approved in December.

Durbin, who served on the panel, said Obama could point to the commission's work as "a template to follow" at a time when Republicans control the House and Democrats dominate the Senate.

"I have no doubt that the president is going to invite the Republicans to join us in getting the economy on track and reducing our national debt," Durbin said in an interview.

Obama has taken a series of steps in recent months aimed at compromising with Republicans and appealing to business interests, agreeing to extend tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest earners, freezing federal workers' pay and announcing a review of federal regulations.

Last week, he named General Electric Chief Jeffrey R. Immelt as a top economic advisor, a signal to business that follows his appointment of former Commerce Secretary William M. Daley as his chief of staff.

Voters like what they see; Obama's approval ratings have jumped in recent weeks.

However, as he veers to the political center, the president risks alienating liberals who want progress on goals such as an immigration overhaul and climate change legislation.

"People are not dumb," said Rena Steinzor, president of the think tank Center for Progressive Reform. "They understand what it means when he moves to the middle: It means placating big companies."

Algeria Police Break Up March; At Least 19 Injured

Helmeted riot police armed with batons and shields on Saturday clashed with rock- and chair-throwing protesters who tried to march in defiance of Algeria's ban on public gatherings.

At least 19 people were injured, the government said, but an opposition party official put the figure at more than 40.

Algeria has been among the many North African and Middle Eastern countries hit by shows of resistance against their autocratic leaders after a young Tunisian man set himself on fire last month, triggering a wave of protests that led Tunisia's longtime strongman to flee the country.

Protest organizers at the democratic opposition party RCD draped a Tunisian flag next to the Algerian flag on a balcony of party headquarters where the march was to begin in the capital, Algiers.

Riot police, backed by a helicopter and crowd-control trucks, ringed the exit to ensure marchers couldn't leave the building — and striking those who tried to come out to take part. Outside, some young men waved the national flag and chanted "Assassin Power!"

"I am a prisoner in the party's headquarters," said Said Sadi, a former presidential candidate who leads the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, said through a megaphone from a balcony window.

Demonstrators shouted "Boutef out!" referring to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika — echoing cries against Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali before he fled Jan. 14 to Saudi Arabia amid huge street protests in Tunisia.

Some would-be marchers reportedly scuffled with police along the planned march route in Algiers.

"They indeed stopped us from marching, but politically, we have succeeded in breaking the wall of fear," RCD lawmaker Mohamed Khendek said. He said the party's task now is to broaden the movement.

The Interior Ministry said 19 people were hurt — eight police officers and 11 demonstrators and passers-by, the state news agency APS reported. The ministry estimated the crowd at around 250 people and said everyone who was injured was treated at the scene.

The ministry, in a statement, said "stones, chairs and blunt instruments were thrown toward security force agents out of the windows at the party headquarters," APS reported. Nine people were detained, including some for possession of banned knives, the ministry said.

A party spokesman, Mohcine Belabbas, said that 42 protesters were taken to hospital for treatment of injuries. The party's leader in parliament, Atmane Mazouz, was hit in the face with a police baton.

Algeria's government in 2002 enacted law banning public gatherings, a move largely targeting Islamic militants involved in a bloody insurgency that erupted in the country a decade earlier.

The regional government for Algiers denied the RCD's request for an authorization to demonstrate, the official news agency said.

Protesters in countries like Algeria have set themselves on fire in apparent attempts to copy Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian whose self-immolation helped inspire the protests that brought down Ben Ali.

Earlier this month, two demonstrators died in unrest over rising food prices, and the government responded by announcing it would cut the cost of sugar and cooking oil. Some self-immolations have been reported in Algeria.

Algeria has had a simmering Islamic movement, and al-Qaida's north African branch was born on the remains of a radical Muslim group that had fought against the military-backed government.

TUNISIA...One Small Revolution

New York Times:
THE West stands captivated by Tunisia, where a month of peaceful protests by secular working- and middle-class Arabs has toppled a dictator, raising hopes that this North African country of 10 million will set off democracy movements throughout a region of calcified dictatorships. But before we envision a new Middle East remade in the manner of Europe 1989, it is worth cataloguing the pivotal ways in which Tunisia is unique.

Start with a map of classical antiquity, which shows a concentration of settlements where Tunisia is today, juxtaposed with the relative emptiness that characterizes modern-day Algeria and Libya. Jutting out into the Mediterranean close to Sicily, Tunisia has been the hub of North Africa not only under the Carthaginians and Romans, but under the Vandals, Byzantines, medieval Arabs and Turks. Whereas Algeria and Libya were but vague geographical expressions until the coming of European colonial map makers, Tunisia is an age-old cluster of civilization.

Even today, many of the roads in the country, particularly in the north, were originally Roman ones. For 2,000 years, the closer to Carthage (roughly the site of Tunis, the capital, today), the greater the level of development. Because urbanization in Tunisia started two millenniums ago, tribal identity based on nomadism — which, as the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun says, has always disrupted political stability — is correspondingly weak.

After the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal in 202 B.C. outside modern-day Tunis, he dug a demarcation ditch, or fossa regia, that marked the extent of civilized territory. The fossa regia remains relevant. Still visible in places, it runs from Tabarka on Tunisia’s northwestern coast southward, and then turns directly eastward to Sfax, another Mediterranean port. The towns beyond that line have fewer Roman remains, and today tend to be poorer and less developed, with historically higher rates of unemployment.

The town of Sidi Bouzid, where the recent revolt started when a vendor of fruit and vegetables set himself on fire, lies just beyond Scipio’s line. Tunisia is less part of the connective tissue of Arab North Africa than a demographic and cultural island bordered by sea and desert, with upwardly mobile European aspirations.

Tunisia has a relatively large middle class because of something so obvious it goes unremarked upon: it is a real state, with historical and geographical legitimacy, where political arguments are about budgets and food subsidies, not the extremist ideologies that have plagued its neighbors, Algeria and Libya. It is a state not only because of the legacy of Rome and other empires, but because of human agency, in the person of Habib Bourguiba, one of the lesser-known great men of the 20th century.

Bourguiba was the Arab Ataturk, who ruled Tunisia in a fiercely secular style for its first three decades after independence from France in the mid-1950s. Rather than envision grandiose building projects or a mighty army, Bourguiba devoted generous financing to birth control programs, rural women’s literacy and primary-school education. He cracked down on the wearing of the veil, actually tried to do away with Ramadan, and advocated normalizing relations with Israel more than a decade before Anwar Sadat of Egypt went to Jerusalem. Yes, he was an authoritarian, but the result of his rule was that Tunisia, with moderate political tendencies and no serious ethnic or sectarian splits, has been poised since the 1980s for a democratic experiment.

In 1987, while faced by an Islamic rising, Bourguiba became too infirm to rule, and was replaced by his former interior minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, essentially a security boss with little vision, much like the Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Ben Ali’s strategy was to keep order, which largely meant killing and torturing Islamists and other dissidents.

But before we dismiss Mr. Ben Ali entirely, we should keep in mind that for many years he presided over a growing economy and middle class, with progress penetrating to the areas beyond the fossa regia. What happened was classic development theory: rising expectations along with uneven economic growth that led to political upheaval. Unlike Bourguiba, who was always revered as the man who led the country to independence, Mr. Ben Ali had no particular cachet to save him, despite an outrageous personality cult, and his extended family was famously corrupt.

Because Bourguiba insisted that the army remain small and apolitical, it is now the most trusted institution in the country. Indeed, the Tunisian Army is a benign Leviathan that may well ensure public order and thus allow for the tumult of democracy.

Nevertheless, despite all these advantages of history, prosperity and stability, Tunisia’s path forward is treacherous. As for other benighted countries in the Arab world — the ones that many observers hope will be shaken to the core by Tunisia’s revolt — they are in far worse shape.

Egypt has been effectively governed by military emergency law since 1952, with Islamic militants waiting in the wings for any kind of opportunity, even as the country is rent by tensions between its majority Muslims and Coptic Christian minority. Algeria and Libya have neither the effective institutions nor the venerable tradition of statehood that Tunisia has. Libya, should Muammar el-Qaddafi fall, would likely be much more of a mess than Tunisia post-Ben Ali.

Then there is Lebanon, with its vicious communalisms, and Syria, which has the potential to break up the way Yugoslavia did in the 1990s, given its regionally defined sectarian divisions. Syria held three free elections from 1947 to 1954 that all broke down along sectarian and regional lines, and the military regimes that have followed in Damascus did nothing to prepare their people for another bout of democracy.

As for Iraq, once the dictator was removed, tens of thousands — and perhaps hundreds of thousands — died in sectarian and ethnic violence. Often, the worse the dictator, the worse the mess after he is toppled. There have been many comparisons between Tunisia 2011 and Europe 1989, but the idea that the coming of democracy in the Middle East won’t have far more disruptions than occurred in Eastern Europe following the collapse of Communism seems naïve.

And there are plenty of reasons to think we are not on the cusp of a democratic avalanche. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 began as a revolt against the tyranny of the shah, but ended with a theocratic regime that was even worse. The seizure of the Grand Mosque at Mecca the same year by Islamic radicals might have brought a tyranny far worse than that of monarchial Saudi Arabia. In any event, it was put down and so remained a localized revolt. The Cedar Revolution in 2005 in Lebanon was stillborn.

There are some promising factors. For one, Arabic-language cable television makes the Middle East a virtual community, so that an event in one part of the region can more easily affect another part. It’s worth hoping that Tunisia’s secular Jasmine Revolution can seed similar uprisings in a restive Middle East that has undergone vast economic and social change, but suffers under the same sterile national security regimes that arose half a century ago.

Still, as the situation evolves in Tunis, and as we watch other Arab capitals expectantly, we would do well to focus less on what unites these places than on what divides them. Just as Tunisia’s circumstances are unique, so are those in all the other countries. The more we focus on the particularities of each place, the less surprised we will be by political developments.

Another thing to keep in mind: in terms of American interests and regional peace, there is plenty of peril in democracy. It was not democrats, but Arab autocrats, Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan, who made peace with Israel. An autocrat firmly in charge can make concessions more easily than can a weak, elected leader — just witness the fragility of Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank government. And it was democracy that brought the extremists of Hamas to power in Gaza. In fact, do we really want a relatively enlightened leader like King Abdullah in Jordan undermined by widespread street demonstrations? We should be careful what we wish for in the Middle East

Tunisian protesters demanded the departure of the embattled prime minister

Tunisian protesters demanded the departure of the embattled prime minister on Saturday, and an investigator promised to uncover the interior ministry's role in this month's shooting of scores of unarmed demonstrators.
Emboldened by their overthrow of the president a week ago in a "Jasmine Revolution," marchers took to the streets to try to force out his lieutenants.
Not satisfied with his pledge to quit once free elections can be held, hundreds surged past a half-hearted police cordon at the office of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi. One banner read: "No place for men of tyranny in a unity government."
Ghannouchi, who stayed on to head a would-be unity coalition after strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled on January 14, made an emotional late-night plea for patience on television on Friday. He portrayed himself as a fellow victim and pledged to end his political career as soon as he could organize elections.
But as he met cabinet colleagues on Saturday, thousands -- including many policemen -- took to the streets of Tunis and other towns to keep up the protest momentum and reject what many deride as Ghannouchi's token attempt to co-opt a handful of little-known dissidents into his government.
One demonstrator outside the premier's office said: "We want to tell Mr Ghannouchi the definition of 'revolution' -- it means a radical change, not keeping on the same prime minister."
The toppling of an authoritarian ruler by waves of street protests has transfixed Arabs across North Africa and the Middle East. The underlying problems of unemployment and corrupt rule are common across the region, and its leaders -- many supported by Western powers as bulwarks against radical Islam -- are watching anxiously as events in Tunisia unfold.
In neighboring Algeria, still scarred by an Islamist revolt in the 1990s against the ruling party, police used batons on Saturday to stop a gathering by an opposition group.
In Saudi Arabia, a man burned himself to death. It was not clear if he was, like numerous others in Egypt and elsewhere, inspired by the self-immolation of a Tunisian vegetable seller whose desperate act last month launched the wave of protests.
In Tunis, a man died after setting himself on fire outside a telephone company. It was not clear what his motive was.
The heads of three commissions established by Tunisia's interim government this week said they would overhaul the country's laws and examine the interior ministry's role in the shooting of protesters.
"We saw in some cases shots had been directed to the head or to the chest... We will look into the reason those who held guns or knives struck those with empty hands who called for bread and freedom," said Taoufik Bouderbala, head of the National Commission to Investigate Abuses.
"We will accuse no one. We will check the facts... but we will ask who gave permission to those who opened fire?"
Tunisia's interior minister has given a death toll of 78 since the start of the demonstrations, but the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights put the number at 117, including 70 killed by live fire.
It is unclear when elections for president and parliament might be held. But leaders of secular and Islamist opposition groups, harshly repressed under Ben Ali's rule, are rushing to re-enter the political fray.
Rached Ghannouchi, exiled leader of the banned Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) movement, told Al Jazeera his movement supported the democratic trend and should not be feared: "We are a moderate Islamic movement, a democratic movement based on democratic ideals in ... Islamic culture," he said.
Moncef Marzouki, a secular dissident who returned from exile in Paris and hopes to run for president, urged the appointment of a new, independent prime minister. He said premier Ghannouchi's presence was hampering, not helping, efforts to restore stability.
But mindful of the dozens of deaths this month and of the thirst for retribution against Ben Ali's clan and the organs of his police state, Marzouki urged those in the streets to stay calm.
"The great thing is that this revolution has been peaceful," he said. "Please continue this way and don't get into revenge."
Even policemen, once the feared blunt instrument of Ben Ali's 24-year rule, were declaring changed loyalties. In Tunis thousands joined in a chant of "We are innocent of the blood of the martyrs!" at a rally to show their support for the revolt.
Clearly under pressure, Prime Minister Ghannouchi said on television late on Friday: "I lived like Tunisians and I feared like Tunisians." He added: "I pledge to stop all my political activity after my period leading the transitional government."
The response of the street protesters was scornful: "Since 1990, Ghannouchi has been finance minister, then prime minister," said student Firass Hermassi outside Ghannouchi's office. "He knows everything, he's an accomplice."

Egyptian activists plan demonstrations Tuesday

A call that first came from the Khaled Saeed Facebook page requested that Egyptians take the streets on Police Day, 25 January, to protest police violence.
Khaled Saeed was allegedly tortured to death at the hands of two Egyptian policemen. Subsequently, youth mobilised over the Internet condemning police violence.

Several opposition groups have responded by expanding the day of action beyond ending police violence.

Opposition groups have decided that 25 January will be a long day of demonstrations demanding greater freedom, justice and citizenship rights.

Groups taking part include Kifaya, the National Association for Change, Hashd, Karama, the 6th of April Youth, the Revolutionary Socialists, Egyptian Women for Change, and Youth for Justice and Freedom.

Clean & Green Peshawar campaign begins tomorrow

Provincial president, Pakhtun Milli Awami Party, (PMAP), Mukhtar Khan Yusufzai has demanded the exposure of those responsible for violence against protesters in district Bannu. Addressing a news conference here on Saturday, he also called for ousting of the local administration of the district Bannu to carryout fair and transparent probe into the incident. He said that Chief Minister, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ameer Haider Khan Hoti had announced judicial inquiry against the use of force on peaceful protesters. He lamented that the responsibility of the mayhem was not exposed yet despite the formation of committee in this regard. "We want transparent and independent investigation and there will be difficult to carry out impartial probe in presence of the present local administration", he maintained.

Karzai backs down in dispute with Afghan lawmakers

Under heavy pressure from Afghan lawmakers and Western diplomats, President Hamid Karzai agreed on Saturday to convene the newly elected parliament, ending a political standoff that threatened to spark a constitutional crisis.
After hours of tense discussions at the presidential palace, Karzai backed off his earlier order to delay the session for a month to allow more time for a special tribunal to investigate allegations of fraud in September's parliamentary election, according to two of the lawmakers involved in the talks, Shukria Barakzai of Kabul and Gul Pacha Majidi of Ghazni province.
In return, Karzai asked the parliamentarians to agree that any criminal case against a lawmaker could go forward, said Mirwais Yasini, a representative from Nangarhar province who was deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament in the last session. The legislators agreed to this Saturday evening and drafted a letter to send to the president on Sunday, Yasini said.
While he has not said so publicly, it is generally believed that Karzai is unhappy with the election results and thinks fraud reduced voter turnout among his fellow ethnic Pashtuns. Some of the hundreds of losing candidates said Karzai told them that he believed they were wronged and that he would do everything to support further investigations into election fraud.
The order to delay the parliament, however, sparked an outcry among lawmakers and drew heavy pressure from the United States, the U.N. and other world powers for Karzai to resolve the dispute and allow the 249-seat legislature to get to work.
In a statement released Friday night, the United Nations expressed its "deep concern and surprise" at the president's order for a delay. Siding with the newly elected lawmakers, the U.N., the European Union, the United States, Canada and other nations said they continued to support a "reasonable, enduring and peaceful resolution to this issue" so that the Afghan parliament could convene as soon as possible.
Legislators had threatened to defy the president's ordered delay and start the session on their own on Sunday, as originally scheduled, even if they had to meet in a hotel or on the street. Under Afghan law, the president inaugurates the legislature at its opening session.
In an effort to avert a public showdown on Sunday, Karzai invited all the lawmakers to the palace for lunch Saturday and after much debate, a compromise was reached.
"He is coming and Wednesday will be the opening," Barakzai said.
Some politicians, however, were not happy with the outcome, signaling that the political tension could drag on.
Daoud Sultanzoy, a former parliamentarian who lost his seat in a chaotic election in Ghazni province, said Karzai bowed to pressure from the international community to support the appearance of a fair vote rather than waiting for the courts to make a decision.
"The United States and the European Union and everyone are ganging up on the people of Afghanistan," Sultanzoy said. "It's a very tragic situation that the president is deciding to do this under international pressure."
Sultanzoy and other losing parliamentarians planned to stage a demonstration in Kabul on Sunday. He said he expected more demonstrations to follow nationwide. He said that Afghans would not be able to trust in their government after this decision.
"Karzai is hitting the last nails in the coffin of this government," Sultanzoy said.
An earlier investigation by an anti-fraud watchdog into the charges of election irregularities discarded 1.3 million ballots — nearly a quarter of the total — and disqualified 19 winning candidates before final results were issued on Nov. 24.
But Afghanistan's attorney general concluded that investigation had not been thorough enough.
The attorney general launched a new round of inquiries, which led the Supreme Court to create the special tribunal in late December.
It was unclear, however, if the tribunal — deemed unconstitutional by both the international community and the electoral bodies that organized and oversaw the election — has the power to alter the result of any races. Afghan electoral law names the fraud investigation panel as the ultimate arbiter of such issues and the Independent Election Commission as the body to declare final results.

Saudi man dies after setting himself on fire.......SIGNS OF REVOLUTION!!!

A Saudi man died after setting himself on fire in the southwestern town of Samta, local media said Saturday, in what could be the latest example of a rash of self-immolations sweeping the region following events in Tunisia.
It would be oil-rich Saudi Arabia's first such incident since an unemployed man set himself on fire in Tunisia last month protesting the economy and sparking riots which brought down the government.
Since that time there have been a wave of copycat immolations across the region, though with few fatalities.
Civil defense spokesman Capt. Yahia al-Qahtani said in a statement carried by Saudi newspapers that the man, in his sixties, set himself on fire Friday and died in the hospital.
No name or motive was given.
In Egypt, a 25-year-old unemployed man died in a hospital on Tuesday after setting himself on fire in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, while three others in Cairo also attempted to set themselves on fire, but survived.
Protesters in Mauritania and Algeria have also set themselves alight in apparent attempts to copy Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi, 26, whose self-immolation helped inspire the protests that toppled Tunisia's authoritarian president.
These incidents, though isolated, reflect the growing despair among much of the Arab public which has no real means of expressing its dissatisfaction. They are deeply symbolic means of protest in a region that has little or no tolerance for dissent.

Demonstrations in Tunisia as political purge continues

Tunisia's popular uprising has claimed its latest victim with the prime minister announcing he will leave politics after elections planned for the next six months, and no sign of a let up in demonstrations demanding a purge of politicians linked to the country's ousted president.It leaves the country on a knife edge with opposition supporters saying they will not stop their campaign until members of the old guard, once loyal to President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, have been removed from power and their cronies hunted down and put on trial.

In a TV interview, Mohamed Ghannouchi, the long serving prime minister, said he would quit "in the shortest possible timeframe" and give up politics after stepping down from the transitional government.

He was a key ally of the ousted president, a position that has meant he has struggled to restore calm under the new national unity government.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the centre of the capital Tunis to demand further reforms. They were joined for the first time by police officers, who were blamed for shooting dozens of people as the protests gathered pace this month, marking a fresh turning point.
"We want people to know that we are with them now and that the brutality was carried out by ignorant policemen," said one officer among the protesters.
Tunisia's interim government, which took over after Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia nine days ago in the face of widespread popular unrest, has faced continued protests by demonstrators angry that former members of his RCD party remain in positions of authority.
The government says at least 78 people have been killed since the start of the uprising, while the United Nations has put the toll at about 100.
However, the tidal wave of change has not gone far enough for many, still angry at the Ben Ali family's appetite for property and wealth. Former prisoners are seeking a peace and reconciliation commission to examine past abuses.
Abdallah Sfax, who spent three months in prison for protesting against an official edict seizing half a hectare of land in Tunis, said he wanted his property restored. "I am free now to complain but that is not enough," he said. "I want my property back and more than that I want to look the people who imprisoned me in Burg al-Ami prison, which was a horrible hellhole, to face justice for treating me badly."
Ben Ali resigned and fled in disgrace to Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power, felled by a populist uprising against unemployment, corruption and poverty that quickly spiralled out of control despite a bloody crackdown.
The protests began when a young fruit seller set himself ablaze in the town of Sidi Bouzid in anger at local officials who had confiscated his handcart in order to demand "baksheesh", a bribe – as they did almost every week. Mohamed Bouazizi's suicide resonated with many ordinary Tunisians with dismal prospects in a country where many graduates struggle to find work, sparking an unstoppable torrent of anger.
Like many Arab leaders, Ben Ali styled himself as a bulwark against the spread of Islamic extremism and al Qaeda and enjoyed good ties with the West until the last days of the Tunisian uprising that unseated him this month.
Vigilante groups armed with iron bars and hammers have sprung up to patrol the streets at night and take part in demonstrations by day.
A curfew remains in place and a state of emergency has not been lifted and there is no date yet for university students to return to campuses – another potential flashpoint.
At the same time fears that a "mafia" linked to the presidential security service could go on the rampage as part of a fight-back from the old regime are running strong.
"We're not just here to defend our neighbourhood. We're protecting Tunisia," said Mongi, a member of a vigilante group set up in the Bardo neighbourhood in Tunis who has been nicknamed "The General" by residents.
"We have to defend the liberties that we have conquered," Mongi said.
Workers have taken over companies and state departments to defend their position and ensure new appointments do not reimpose state control.
"We are expecting a lot of change and don't want the old guard to steal our revolution away," said one Tunis office worker at Star Insurance, which was owned by Mr Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakher Materi, and who refused to give her name in fear of reprisals.
"There is an inbuilt bureaucracy here and this is not over. We hope that we will not return to the old domination by the yes men but we don't know and have to stand up for ourselves."
The revolutionary fervour that has swept Tunis leaves many people re-examining their complicity with the Ben Ali regime in order to get jobs and provide for their families. As the demonstrations intensified last week some were warning that events could spiral into a Chinese-style Cultural Revolution in which everything is destroyed.
Mouldi Mubarak, who was said to be Mr Ben Ali's favourite newspaper columnist, said: "The revolutionary conditions have been good but there is a danger it will undermine all society. It is very important to avoid cultural anarchy. Democracy will only work if we ensure that there is no anarchy."
Meanwhile, the family of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old man whose death was the spark for a regime's downfall, visit his grave every day. Just outside the town of Sidi Bouzid it has become a pilgrimage site for opposition politicians and protesters.
His family say they are proud of the stand he took against local corruption.
"They offered us two billion dinar (£880m) not to bring his body back here for the funeral," said his older brother, Salem Bouazizi, 30. "They knew it would make things worse for them but there was no way we would sell our brother like that."
His mother, swathed in black and hunched over a charcoal burner against the winter chill in their tiny one-storey home, said Mohamed did not have a political bone in his body.
"He was not campaigning or looking to bring down the government," said Mannoubia Bouazizi, speaking in Arabic. "He was just one man with his handcart who had had enough. We are proud though of what he achieved. It means we can walk tall."
The reverberations from his death are still being felt throughout Tunisia as its people try to decide what comes next and how far the revolution will cut through society.

Veena Malik defends herself against clerics and media Read more:

Actress Veena Malik after returning to Pakistan defended herself against allegations of indecency and offensive performance in India. Veena said she was accountable to god and not to people.
Pakistani TV and film actress Veena Malik defended herself emphatically against a religious cleric as well as media, which had been slinging mud at her, while bursting into tears on TV last evening, January 21, 2011. Veena had been the target of criticism since her participation in the famous Indian reality show Bigg Boss (Season 4), for which she remained in India for three months.

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