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Friday, September 9, 2011     FOR YOUR EYES ONLY

Tunisia restricts security forces, gets U.S. aid

CAIRO — Tunisia is seeking to limit the influence of its security forces.


Officials said the government of Prime Minister Beji Qaid Essebsi has imposed restrictions on the activities of police and security forces. They said the security forces would be banned from political and union lobbying.

"I have decided from today to ban all union activity among security services in view of the danger that such activity represents for the security of the country," Essebsi said.

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Meanwhile, The administration of President Barack Obama has decided to help Tunisia's military.

Officials said the Defense Department has won approval of a plan to send more than $20 million to help Tunisia's military. They said the U.S. assistance was meant to bolster North African security in wake of the ouster of Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali in February.

"This aid is meant to show U.S. support for democratic change," an official said.

At a news conference on Sept. 6, Essebsi said police interference marked a threat to national security. He cited the arrest of 23 officers charged with killing anti-government protesters.

Tensions have risen between the police and the army. Officers have been demonstrating against both the military and government and called for the resignation of Chief of Staff Gen. Rachid Amar and Interior Minister Habib Essid.

The trial of the 23 officers, charged with killing protesters in December 2010 and January 2011, was part of the unrest that led to the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Bin Ali. Police said 10 officers were killed and 18 injured on Jan. 14, when Bin Ali tried to flee Tunisia.

Over the last two months, violent clashes between police and protesters have renewed in Tunisia. At least two people were killed and dozens injured in riots in several cities.

Officials said the violence was expected to heighten over the next few weeks during the campaign for parliamentary elections on Oct. 23.

They said the government would maintain a curfew in at least three cities as well as ban all demonstrations and labor strikes.

"The government will see the law applied," Essebsi said. "The interior minister has the right to place under house arrest any person known for activities affecting internal security."

The U.S. aid was designed to upgrade the Tunisian Navy, particularly its ability to patrol territorial waters. Officials said the aid would enable Tunis to purchase U.S. surplus patrol boats to intercept suspected Al Qaida boats and illegal migrants from North Africa to Europe.

The Pentagon proposal also called for the modernization of U.S.-origin radars and helicopters for the Tunisian Army and Air Force. Officials said Tunisia would also receive additional training as well as tactical ground transport vehicles.

Officials said the Pentagon has approved U.S. military aid to a range of allies, including Malta and European states. They said some of the money allocated to Yemen's military could be diverted to Tunisia.

"Yemen is not sufficiently stable to receive additional U.S. aid," the official said.

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