news services
updated 2/27/2011 1:50:37 PM ET 2011-02-27T18:50:37

Tunisia's interim president has named former government minister Beji Caid-Essebsi as the country's new prime minister and called for calm to return after violent new protests.

The appointment by caretaker President Fouad Mebazaa on Sunday comes just hours after longtime premier Mohammed Ghannouchi said he would resign in an attempt to return the North African nation to stability.

Ghannouchi was seen by many as being too close to ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown in January amid after a month of popular protests. Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi resigned on Sunday, amid renewed violence during protests in this North African country.

Ghannouchi, 69, had promised to stay on to guide the country until elections this summer.

Ghannouchi's announcement on state TV and radio came a day after officials said at least four people had died in recent days in the capital during clashes between stone-throwing protesters and police.

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"My resignation will provide a better atmosphere for the new era," he said, adding he wanted to prevent more deaths. Three people have been killed since Friday in clashes between security forces and demonstrators at protests against Ghannouchi.

"My resignation is in the service of the country," he said during a speech on state TV. "I am not a man of repression."

Ghannouchi restated the government's pledge to hold elections to replace Ben Ali, widely seen by Tunisians as repressive and corrupt, by July 15.

Analysts said Ghannouchi's resignation had the potential to ease street tensions, but may also backfire.

"The hope is that, with this concession, street protests will calm down and this will allow the government to get to the task of preparing elections," said Kamran Bokhari, regional director of the Middle East and South Asia for political risk consultancy Stratfor.

"But the risk is that it will embolden the opposition forces to demand more concessions."

A Reuters witness said Tunisian soldiers had barricaded a commercial district of Tunis where youths were breaking windows and throwing stones. They fired tear gas and rounds in the air to disperse them. There was no sign of any wounded.

An official at Tunisia's powerful umbrella union UGTT, which has been demanding labor reforms since Ben Ali's removal, told Reuters that Ghannouchi's resignation was "a step in the right direction."

A spokesman for Tunisia's main Islamist group, Ennahda, said the move could pave the way to broader participation in the interim government. Ennahda, banned for two decades under Ben Ali's rule, had complained of being shut out of the caretaker government run by Ghannouchi.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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