Tunisia protests grow; TV back on the air

Jan. 24, 2011 at 4:30 AM
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TUNIS, Tunisia, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Protests were expected to grow in Tunisia Monday after the government shut down the country's most popular private TV network, charging its owner with treason.

Convoys of Tunisians from the impoverished south arrived in Tunis to join thousands of others in the old city chanting for a government breakup as the interim government said Larbi Nasri, president of Hannibal TV, was arrested along with his son on charges of "grand treason" and plotting against state security.

Hannibal, Tunisia's most popular private TV network, was reported back on the air several hours later, with Tunisian state TV ERTT saying an opposition Cabinet minister intervened to get Hannibal back on the air.

The network had been accused of being aligned with ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and of trying "to abort the youth's revolution, spread confusion, incite strife and broadcast false information likely to create a constitutional vacuum and destabilize the country in order to take it into a spiral of violence that aims to restore the dictatorship of the former president," the state news agency Tunis Afrique Presse quoted a government statement as saying.

Nasri is related to Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi, TAP said. Trabelsi is widely disliked in Tunisia, in part because her family grew hugely rich after her marriage, The New York Times said. The relationship could not immediately be independently confirmed.

Hannibal TV spokesman Lotfi Sallemi told Western reporters Nasri "was with the revolution, giving voice to all the people," and the interim government shut down its signal without warning or explanation.

He called the shutdown a violation of freedom of the press and said any allegations against Nasri could be arbitrated without pulling the plug on a major TV network.

The fate of the network is widely seen in Tunisia as a crucial test of the new government's commitment to civil liberties, the Times said.

The protests, which were relatively peaceful during the weekend, were expected to grow Monday because of the convoys of Tunisians that arrived from the impoverished south.

"Today, today, the government should go," the Times quoted crowds as chanting Sunday.

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