Army Patrolling Streets In Wake Of Tunisian President's Departure


Tunis, Tunisia -- Army tanks and armored personnel carriers patrolled the streets of Tunis Saturday, a day after the prime minister announced that he is the interim president -- the latest development in a story of unrest and public outrage in a tiny but significant corner of the Arab world.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced Friday on Tunisian state TV that he has taken over the responsibilities of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- who ruled the nation since 1987 and fled in a plane Friday with his relatives.

He left a country reeling. Before he stepped down, Ben Ali had dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency. Under the emergency declaration, people are not allowed on the street between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. Groups of three or more people are subject to arrest and, if they try to flee, can be fired on.

His departure followed weeks of widespread outrage over poor living conditions and repression of rights. In daily demonstrations, thousands of protesters had denounced corruption in the Ben Ali government and had urged that he step down.

He apparently got the message. Ghannouchi moved quickly to fill the vacuum. "Considering the fact that at the current time he (Ben Ali) cannot fulfill his duties, I take over today, the powers of the president of the republic," he told his countrymen.

He appealed for calm and pledged to respect the constitution and to carry out the political, economic and social reforms announced this week by Ben Ali.

Ghannouchi asked residents to cooperate with the army, which was ordered to take charge of the streets following a state-of-emergency declaration.

Moving to calm widespread disillusionment with Ben Ali's government, Ghannouchi told Arabic-language Al Jazeera Television that "certain measures" had already been taken against "corrupt families." He was referring to those business owners who were close to Ben Ali.