Tunisia senate agrees to widen presidential powers

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Tunisian interim President Fouad Mebazaa
Image caption,
President Fouad Mebazaa is the former speaker of the lower house of parliament

Tunisia's senate has passed legislation that gives interim President Fouad Mebazaa the power to rule by decree.

The move comes three weeks after protesters ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Mr Mebazaa will now be able to sidestep parliament which is dominated by associates of Mr Ben Ali.

The interim government has been struggling to restore order following the departure of Mr Ben Ali.

The lower house passed the bill on Monday.

Interim Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said the legislation was needed to speed up reforms as people were anxious for change.

"Time is precious," he said on Monday.

He told the senate that political parties banned under Mr Ben Ali would be made legal within days, AFP news agency reports.

Over the weekend it was announced that the former ruling party would be suspended and its offices closed.

Mr Ghannouchi, a longtime ally of Mr Ben Ali who served as his prime minister for 11 years, has promised to hold elections within six months.

The toppling of Mr Ben Ali after 23 years in power helped inspire the current anti-government protests in Egypt.

The UN says that at least 219 people died during Tunisia's protests which began in December.

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