Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month amid violent protests.
Charges against Mr. Ben Ali include taking money out of the country illegally, Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said on Wednesday. The country is also seeking the arrest of Mr. Ben Ali’s wife, Leila, as well as other family members.
Mr. Ben Ali fled the North African country January 14 after 23 years in power, pushed out by weeks of deadly protests driven by anger over joblessness, corruption and repression.
On Wednesday, the Justice Minister released figures that underlined the massive scope of the unrest. More than 11,000 prisoners — about a third of the country’s prison population — were able to escape amid the chaos, he said.
Mr. Chebbi spoke as Tunisian police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters in Tunis, the capital, who have been pressuring the interim government to get rid of old guard Ministers who served under Mr. Ben Ali.
The clashes broke out on Wednesday in front of the Prime Minister’s office. Acrid clouds of tear gas engulfed hundreds of people, and some demonstrators responded by throwing stones at police.
The state news agency TAP said officials are to announce changes to the interim government later Wednesday. The acting Premier must replace five Ministers who quit their posts, echoing protesters’ concerns.
TAP reported there will be other changes too, but it is unclear whether they will satisfy the crowds who have been protesting every day in Tunis.
The caretaker government includes some former opposition leaders, but many top posts — including Prime Minister and the Ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs and the Interior — were retained by the old guard.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took that post in 1999 under Mr. Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has vowed to quit politics after elections in the coming months. But he has insisted that he needs to stay on for now to guide Tunisia through a transition to democracy.
Tunisia’s so-called “Jasmine Revolution” has sparked scattered protests and civil disobedience in the Middle East and North Africa.
In Egypt on Tuesday, thousands of anti-government protesters, some hurling rocks, clashed with riot police in Cairo in a Tunisia-inspired demonstration to demand the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30 years in power.