EXILED LEADERS RETURN TO TUNISIA – following the overthrow of Ben Ali

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After more than 20 years in exile, Tunisian Ennahda movement leader Rached Ghannouchi returned from London on Sunday, with thousands of supporters greeting him.

Ghannouchi walked into the arrivals hall of Tunis, raising his arms in triumph and eyeing a political future for his movement after the ousting of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

‘When I return home today I am returning to the Arab world as a whole,’ he told reporters, adding that Ennahda now planned to register officially as a political party and take part in the country’s first democratic elections.

The new interim government installed in the country after the fall of Ben Ali on January 14 has allowed several key exiles to return despite bans on them from the old regime.

Ghannouchi was persecuted in Tunisia ever since founding his movement in 1981.

He still officially has a life sentence hanging over his head, although the new government has drawn up an amnesty law for political exiles like Ghannouchi, which has to go before parliament for final approval.

‘There is still confusion regarding the political situation.

‘The interim government is changing its ministers every day, it’s not stable yet and its powers are not clear yet,’ Ghannouchi told reporters before leaving.

Meanwhile, Jaap Wienen, deputy Secretary-General of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), has been visiting Tunisia.

He underlined that his visit was aimed to express support to the People’s Revolution whose developments have been followed ‘with pride and consideration’ by the Confederation.

During a meeting with the press, last Friday in Tunis, Wienen commended the important role played the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) in the success of the Revolution, which ‘testifies to the weight of trade unionism in Tunisia and its constant efforts to achieve freedom and democracy.’

He said that ITUC is now reassured about Tunisia’s future, as the country has entered a new, promising process of development and progress.

Wienen said that UGTT has become a model worth following by labour organisations in the world.

The ITUC secretary-general underlined that in co-operation with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) stemming from the United Nations, it will develop the job market in Tunisia.

Besides, he specified that foreign investors still have confidence in Tunisia, given the Revolution’s balanced political climate, not to mention the ‘excellent relations’ which ties the country and the EU, and the openness of its people who are characterised by their ‘distinguished intellectual and scientific level’.

For his part, Abdessalem Jrad, UGTT Secretary-General and ITUC deputy chairman, commended the People’s Revolution which has been led by Tunisian youths, without political parties’ participation or organisation, underlining the support of the Union to the decisions of the interim government, notably those concerning separation between State and parties, and the general amnesty.

Jrad also suggested the setting up of a parliamentary system in Tunisia to guarantee democracy and pluralism.

He spoke about the Union’s role in changing the Government’s make-up and dislodging ministers bound to the old regime, and offered the possibility of his organisation participating in the three national commissions, namely the Political Reform Commission, Fact-Finding Commission on Cases of Embezzlement and Corruption and the Fact-Finding Commission on Abuses during the last period.

Jrad said that UGTT refuses to be part of the Government, but it will strive to defend the victims of the old regime, monitor the Commissions’ and the interim government’s works, stressing the trade unionists’ commitment to participate in restoring order and security in the country.

The Brussels-based ITUC has some 200 trade union member organisations from 150 countries.

Ealier last week, the ILO said it is ‘very concerned about the violent attacks that have recently taken place against the offices of Tunisian trade unions’.

The Director-General of the ILO, Juan Somavia, said that ‘Peaceful dialogue has to prevail in order to ensure that a democratisation process benefits the fundamental interests of workers, employers and the whole society.’

Since the beginnings of the crisis, the ILO has ‘kept in close contact with the social partners in Tunisia and will continue to carefully monitor the situation in line with ILO’s standing concern for the exercise of freedom of association’.

‘The role of trade unions and employers’ organisations is crucial, and any attacks against them are attacks against the principles of social dialogue and tripartite cooperation, which the ILO stands for,’ said Somavia.

‘The ILO is listening carefully to the needs of its constituents and will examine together with them solutions to the economic, social and employment problems of the country.’

Somavia added that the ILO hopes that there soon will be a government based on the will of the people.

The UGTT has issued the following statement: ‘The Executive Bureau of the Tunisian General Trade Union met on Wednesday, January 26 2011, under the chairmanship of the General Secretary, comrade Abdessalem Jrad.

‘After reviewing the current situation of the country and the clear and precise positions taken by the central Trade Union as well as the civil and political society and taking into consideration the acts of vandalism and looting that targeted some headquarters of the UGTT, the Executive Bureau of the Union:

‘1. Strongly condemns the acts of vandalism which targeted the headquarters of the UGTT in some areas.

‘These acts remind the trade unionists, activists and workers of the events of January 26 1978.

‘These practices will only strengthen the resistance of the unions and their willingness to fight.

‘This will not change their decision to continue their struggle and guide protesters in accordance with the claims of the civil and political society, and all the population.

‘2. Thanks all those who defended the UGTT and all those who struggled to support the historical position of the Central trade union, based on the commitment to the principles of the revolution and on the composition of a government that serves the revolution, a government that breaks completely with the old regime, works with transparency and credibility to build a better future, based on strengthening public and private freedoms, democracy and Human Rights.

‘3. Thanks all the associations, the non-governmental organisations and the political parties and sensitivities for supporting the decisions of the UGTT and its governing structures that, despite differences of opinion, form a protective shield for militants and activists and remain vigilant to defend the Central trade union and a united front against all attempts to ransack the offices of the UGTT and to undermine its unity.

‘4. Warns against the violent turn that characterises the situation and other acts perpetrated by militias who want to sow disorder and prevent people from protesting peacefully, and with responsibility.

‘The Executive Bureau calls all trade unionists and workers to save the companies and production sites and condemns any attempt to destroy the achievements of the population.

‘5. Calls on the President of the Republic to listen carefully to the demands of the people and the UGTT which expresses, in this crucial period, the willingness to interact with all the ideas that are consistent with the decisions of the leading structures of the Central trade union.

‘Long live the workers’ struggle for freedom, justice, democracy and Human Rights.

‘Tunis, January 26 2011

‘The General Secretary

‘Abdessalem Jrad’