New Tunisian government makes Davos debut

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Tunisia's fledgling post-revolt government tried to reassure global business executives that its economy is stable Saturday as it received a warm welcome at Davos.

The new governor of Tunisia's central bank, Mustapha Kamel Nabli, and the just-appointed Transport Minister Yacine Brahim were given warm applause when introduced at a seminar at the World Economic Forum.

Later they were joined by Communications Minister Sami Zaoui, hot foot from the airport, as the North African country sought to restore its reputation for stability after a popular revolt toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"Democracy is taking root. Even given the lack of democratic traditions in the country and so on, but the people have shown a high degree of maturity and a high degree of responsibility," Nabli told reporters.

"The security situation is back almost to normal, I would say not completely normal, we still have some places where events are taking place here and there," he said, urging investors not to turn away.

Ben Ali was toppled earlier this month by a street uprising, and images of rioting Tunisians and looted buildings flashed around the world, undermining the country's image as a safe haven in a rough corner of the world.

But Nabli, who has been at work for 10 days, and the ministers, who were named in an interim government formed two days ago, said economic life was rapidly returning to normal even as the political space opens up.

Former software executive Brahim explained that shares in firms owned by members of the Ben Ali family, which after 23-years of his autocratic rule had interests in just about every sector of the economy, had been frozen.

But the companies, Nabli said, would continue to trade and employ people and where necessary a state-appointed administrator would take over their running while legal inquiries into their ownership continued.

Zaoui said the new government had been recognised by all of its regional neighbours, even those who had had ties with Ben Ali's ousted regime.

Nabli hit out at international rating agencies, which downgraded Tunisia's debt in the wake of the unrest, insisting they had overreacted and that the country's economy would be strengthened by transparent, democratic rule.

The ministers refused to comment on the situation in Egypt, where protests against President Hosni Mubarak erupted following the Tunisia example, but they were saluted warmly by delegates in Davos, excited by news from Cairo.

At a seminar organised by the World Economic Forum, academics and media executives from North Africa and the Middle East said the Tunisian revolt would inspire Arabs in Egypt and beyond to demand economic and democratic freedoms.

© 2011 AFP

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