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TUNISIA: Government embarks on dramatic reforms of once-detested Interior Ministry

February 3, 2011 |  6:52 am


They are despised and feared, black-helmeted storm troopers who keep order in Arab police states like Tunisia before its Jan. 14 revolution.

But the members of the security forces are also human beings, as oppressed and humiliated as the people who are their victims. 

This week, Tunisia's interim government made sweeping steps to transform its Ministry of Interior into a force of law and order instead of an instrument of repression.

Late Tuesday, after a bizarre incident a day earlier in which hundreds of possible former security henchmen stormed Interior Ministry headquarters in Tunis, interim Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi announced the arrest of his predecessor, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, and the firing of dozens of others.

According to the official Tunis-Afrique-Presse, or TAP, news agency, 34 security officials were retired and seven new officials were appointed to serve as department heads.

"There is a conspiracy against state security," said Rajhi, according to Bloomberg news.

In addition, the government announced a pay raise for domestic security officers, and began drafting a bill to allow for the creation of an independent labor union.

It also has begun a plan to rehire police officers who were fired unjustly. 

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: A protester shouts at the formerly feared Interior Ministry during a Jan. 22 demonstration in Tunis. Credit: Christopher Furlong /Getty Images