WASHINGTON (AFP) – A senior US envoy visited Tunisia on Monday to press the caretaker government on democratic reforms and new elections after the revolution that ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The visit by Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman, the top-ranking official on the Middle East, was announced in a message on the microblogging website Twitter by US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley.
“US AsstSecJeffFeltman arrived in Tunisia today to confer with the interim government on its plans for democratic reforms and elections,” Crowley wrote, abbreviating Feltman’s title and name in his Tweet.
In December, the self-immolation of 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi unleashed a wave of street riots across the North African country that culminated in the dramatic ouster of Ben Ali after 23 years in power.
Bouazizi’s attempt to draw attention to economic hardship and repression sparked a series of copycat public torchings in Egypt, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Tunisian grievances have long been echoed throughout the Arab world, whose mainly autocratic leaders were left unnerved by events in Tunisia.
The United States is urging Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, the interim Tunisian leader, to carry out democratic reforms to stem the country’s political turmoil and hold credible elections this year.
But the embattled Ghannouchi is facing mounting pressure to quit as the country’s main trade union has mobilized against him and thousands have rallied in the capital Tunis and other cities.
Tunisian Education Minister Taieb Baccouch, a government spokesman, told AFP that a cabinet reshuffle involving at least six ministerial posts was under discussion and could be announced later on Monday or on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Ghannouchi on Saturday to encourage reforms and pledge Washington’s support for the transition to an open democracy following the ouster of Ben Ali.