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Interim Tunisian Government Includes Holdovers

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

As Eleanor Beardsley reports, after years of living under the feared police squads, Tunisians now look to the army to keep them safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE AND HELICOPTER)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Human rights activist Masoud Ramdhani said the gunfight broke out as the army tried to root out other members of Ben Ali's elite police force.

MONTAGNE: These people have got arms and munitions and they continue to use these arms to terrify people.

BEARDSLEY: Masoud and other Tunisians say Ben Ali's henchmen are sowing chaos to try to make the country fail. The former Tunisian president built his system with the help of his powerful police force. According to one European human rights report, they played a role in all political, social and cultural aspects of Tunisian life.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATORS)

BEARDSLEY: Tunisians downright loathe Ben Ali's personal security police, especially since his forces opened fire on protesters over the last month. Cell phone videos posted on Facebook showing the killing of protesters by police snipers enraged people and helped stoke the revolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEATINGS)

BEARDSLEY: This reporter witnessed policemen beating young protesters with truncheons in a back alley under her hotel window just before Ben Ali fled. Minutes later, a frightened young man knocked at my door, asking if I could hide him from the police.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

BEARDSLEY: During the final mass protest last Friday, just before police attacked with tear gas, many people poured out their grievances to reporters over Ben Ali's regime. The raw emotion in this woman's voice says it all. She was too afraid to give her name.

U: (Foreign language spoken) (Through translator) Thirty police came to my house and took my child away last March. He's just a student. I still don't know where he is. They are monsters and liars.

BEARDSLEY: Since Ben Ali's departure, the veil of fear is slowly lifting. Sixty-year-old Benusef Houtman explains to me, out on the open streets, how Tunisians feel about the police and the army. He says he never would have talked so openly a week ago.

MONTAGNE: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: Moncef Marzouki is the head of a Tunisian opposition party and has been living in exile in Paris for the last decade. He'll be coming home this week to take part in Tunisia's new democracy.

BEARDSLEY: (Through translator) All of the Tunisian people are confident in the army, that it will stop these gangs who are trying to sow confusion, and that it will be the guarantor of our peaceful transition to democracy.

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Tunis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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