Tunisian reservists report to army amid instability

AFP , Wednesday 16 Feb 2011

Tunisian army reservists start to report to military bases amid continued instability following protests that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Hundreds of Tunisian army reservists reported to military bases Wednesday after being recalled amid continued instability following protests that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a month ago.

Between 400 and 500 turned up at a main mobilisation centre at Bouchocha, in the suburbs of the capital Tunis, on the first day of a recall of retired soldiers and ex-conscripts to bolster the army, an AFP reporter said.

The defence ministry last week ordered them to report to regional military posts closest to their homes.

Reservist Mohsen Jaziri, 25, told AFP at the Bouchocha centre that he and his comrades were to be transferred to barracks in the capital for fast-track training before being deployed on army patrols.

They expected to be mobilised for six months, a term which could be renewed, he said.

"I am returning to the army because I am afraid of legal proceedings if I don't respond to the order, and anyway to wear a uniform in this historic time in our country is an honour for Tunisians," he said.

The army numbers about 45,000 troops and has been praised by Tunisians for refusing orders to fire on demonstrators in the weeks of protests that ended Ben Ali's 23 years in power on January 14.

It is vastly outnumbered by the police force, which is despised by locals for carrying out orders to shoot.

More than 200 people were killed in the demonstrations, which erupted mid-December and first focused on unemployment and food costs.

"For me, it is a call to duty," said a 24-year-old garage worker who gave his name only as Elyas.

"The army was honest all through the last events. It was on the side of the people and it is an honour for me to return."

"At least they are going to pay us," added unemployed Monji, 26, although he was not able to say what wages he could expect.

The interim government on Tuesday extended a nationwide state of emergency imposed in the hours before Ben Ali's dramatic departure to Saudi Arabia, but lifted an overnight curfew.

It warned of attempts to stir up unrest, including between the army and police.

The interim authority, tasked with leading the country to elections, has been criticised for its presence of figures from Ben Ali's regime, including Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, the head of the government since 1999.

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