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Allies of ousted Tunisian head held

Police in Tunisia cracked down Sunday on key allies of the ousted president, placing two high-ranking officials under house arrest and detaining the head of a well-known private TV station for allegedly trying to slow down the country's nascent steps toward democracy.

The measures against former cronies and supporters of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali came amid continued street protests in the North African country's capital, Tunis, and efforts by the tenuous interim government to heed the incessant groundswell of opposition to his old guard.

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Tunis to press on with demands that holdovers of Ben Ali's repressive 23-year regime be kept out of power.

Tunisia's "Jasmine Revolution" drove the iron-fisted Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, and sparked similar protests and civil disobedience across the Middle East and North Africa. Many observers were looking to see if Tunisians can complete their fervent push for democracy.

State news agency TAP reported that Larbi Nasri, the president of privately owned Hannibal TV, was arrested along with his son on charges of "high treason" and plotting against state security.

The station, which has become one of Tunisia's most popular channels mainly for its sports coverage and lively talk shows, almost immediately stopped its broadcasts.

Nasri, who has family ties to Ben Ali's widely despised wife, Leila Trabelsi, is accused of using his channel to "cause the revolution of the young to fail, sow chaos, incite disobedience and broadcast information" aimed to hoodwink the public, TAP said. The ultimate aim, its report said, was "to restore the dictatorship of the former president."

TAP also reported that former Ben Ali advisers Abdallah Kallel and Abdelaziz Ben Dhia have been placed under house arrest, and police are looking for a third man, Abdelwaheb Abdallah.

Kallel, the Senate president and a former government minister, was stopped from leaving the country after Ben Ali fled. A Geneva-based legal advocacy group, Trial, said torture was widespread in Tunisia while Kallel was interior minister in the early 1990s.

Ben Dhia is considered one of Ben Ali's most influential advisers, and Abdallah was a top political adviser to the former president who kept tabs on communication -- notably on Tunisia's powerful state-run media.

The demonstrators scattered throughout the capital -- near the prime minister's office, the finance and defense ministries, and a city office building -- waving banners and photos of a young man who set himself on fire and triggering the uprising that ended Ben Ali's rule.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took that post in 1999 under Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has vowed to quit politics after upcoming elections. But he has insisted that he needs to stay on to shepherd Tunisia through a transition to democracy.

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