TUNIS, Tunisia — Police 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 — many from Tunisia's provinces south of the capital — 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.