TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisia's fragile new government emerged from its first meeting Thursday hopeful that it can re-unite a country scarred by deadly riots, and calm compatriots still seething at the party that reigned supreme for 23 years.
The army fired warning shots to calm a noisy but peaceful protest in front of the long-ruling RCD party's headquarters, where demonstrators took down a huge sign and demanded that the government — dominated by members of the old guard — be dismantled, too.
Ministers in the multiparty Cabinet met for four hours Thursday afternoon and came out showing a united front.
Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again
The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.
- Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
- Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
- Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
- Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold
- Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again
The government suggested that Islamists imprisoned under ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would be amnestied. It pledged to make security the top priority, to prepare for new presidential elections and speed up political reforms, new government spokesman Tayyib Al Bakouchi told reporters.
The ministers pledged to restore goods and real estate appropriated by the ruling party under Ben Ali, to reopen schools shuttered by violence and remove security forces stationed at universities.
"We will not sleep until normalcy returns to all aspects of life in country," Al Bakouchi said.Video: Tunisians enraged over elite’s excess (on this page)
The government declared three days of national mourning, and held a moment of silence for the dozens of people killed in nearly a month of unrest leading up to Ben Ali's departure Friday.
Education Minister Naguib Ahmed Ibrahim said that all political prisoners would be released no matter what their ideology. While he didn't use the word Islamist, that was widely understood to mean activists banned or jailed under Ben Ali and the country's strict anti-terrorism laws.
"Of course I am optimistic," said Ahmad Ouaines, under secretary of state of the government. "We believe in speaking to the people. The progression is like a speedy express train."
Sleim Emama, a blogger who was named to the government this week, tweeted throughout the meeting and at the end told reporters, "This is a good government."
Tensions remained in the country, however.
Earlier Thursday, the army fired a barrage of warning shots in the capital as demonstrators converged on the headquarters of the RCD party. Protesters dismantled the sign bearing its name, carrying off pieces of its red letters.
The building was being protected by an army tank in addition to numerous trucks and troops.
Demonstrators have criticized the country's new unity government for being mostly made up of politicians from the RCD, which was founded by Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday.After Tunisia, Arab leaders wonder: Should I pack?
The crowd of protesters swelled to 2,000 people Thursday, many chanting: "The people want the government down!" Others waved baguettes to symbolize the need to end food shortages.
One father, Ahmad al-Ouni, brought his children aged 8 and 4 to the demonstration with a backpack of snacks and juice.
"I want them to smell their free country and to see the new Tunis without fear," al-Ouni said while his children used colored pens to draw Tunisian flags on paper.
Another demonstrator said the protests will continue until all ministers and members of parliament with links to the RCD party are removed from power.
"This revolution cannot be stolen from us, and we will not tire from demonstrating, and we will come out everyday if we have to," said Mohsen Kaabi, 55, a former military officer.
The caretaker government is now struggling to calm this moderate Muslim nation on the Mediterranean Sea, popular among European tourists and seen as an ally in the West's fight against terrorism.
In a sign of the difficulties facing the government, one minister, a former member of the ruling party, resigned Thursday before the Cabinet meeting, the official TAP news agency said. Zouheir M'dhaffer was a member of Ben Ali's party but was not considered close to the ousted leader. Four other ministers resigned earlier in the week.
Several members of the interim government who belonged to the RCD quit the party. Following the resignations, the party dissolved its central committee, according to TAP.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.