Tunisia president steps down
TUNIS – Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has stepped down after 23 years in power, amid widespread protests on the streets of the capital Tunis.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said he would be taking over from the president.
A state of emergency was declared earlier, as weeks of protests over economic issues snowballed into rallies against Ben Ali’s rule.
Unconfirmed reports said Ben Ali and his family had left Tunisia.
The reports suggested that the deposed president was looking for a place of asylum, with French media saying that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had turned down a request for his plane to land in France.
Earlier, police fired tear gas as thousands of protesters gathered outside the interior ministry.
The protesters had put their bodies on the line, and many people were killed. Last night, they ignored the curfew to celebrate on the streets.
At the end of a dramatic day, President Ben Ali fled, was no longer able to hold back the growing tide of public discontent and anger with his regime.
Now, the protesters will want to see the fruits of their demonstrations.
They won’t settle for meagre reform, they won’t settle for the same elite remaining in power. They’re very happy that the president has gone, but they don’t like the regime that surrounded him, and they’ll want his cronies out as well.
Doctors said 13 people were killed in overnight clashes in Tunis, and there were unconfirmed reports that five people were killed in protests yesterday outside the capital.
Troops have surrounded the country’s main international airport, Tunis Carthage, and the country’s air space has been closed.
A state of emergency decree bans gatherings of more than three people and imposes a night-time curfew. Security forces have been authorised to open fire on people not obeying their orders.
French President Sarkozy said he stood side-by-side with the citizens of Tunisia, his country’s former protectorate.
“Only dialogue can bring a democratic and lasting solution to the current crisis,” said Sarkozy in a statement.
The United States, a staunch ally of Tunisia, said all people “had the right to choose their own leaders”.
Ghannouchi, 69, a former finance minister who has been prime minister since 1999, will serve as interim president.
In an address on state television, he promised to “respect the law and to carry out the political, economic and social reforms that have been announced”. (BBC)