Tunisian PM Takes Over As Interim President Of Embattled Country

(CNN)

Tunisia's prime minister announced Friday that he is now the interim president of his country's embattled government, the latest development in a fast-moving story of unrest and public outrage in a tiny but significant corner of the Arab world.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced on Tunisian state TV that he has taken over the responsibility of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- who has ruled the nation since 1987.

This comes amid media reports that Ben Ali has left the country amid outrage over poor living conditions and repression of rights. Protesters who have held daily demonstrations have denounced corruption in the Ben Ali government and urged that he leave the office.

Tunisia's prime minister announced Friday that he is now the interim president of his country's embattled government, the latest development in a fast-moving story of unrest and public outrage in a tiny but significant corner of the Arab world.

Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced on Tunisian state TV that he has taken over the responsibility of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali -- who has ruled the nation since 1987.

This comes amid media reports that Ben Ali has left the country amid outrage over poor living conditions and repression of rights. Protesters who have held daily demonstrations have denounced corruption in the Ben Ali government and urged that he leave the office.

Earlier on Friday, Ben Ali dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, state TV reported. He also called for parliamentary elections within six months. The moves came days after the president dumped the interior minister and fired a couple of aides.

Ben Ali was reacting to instability ripping through the North African country. He announced concessions in a nationally televised address Thursday to meet some grievances.


Officials said the reason for the emergency declaration is to protect Tunisians and their private property. People are not allowed on the street from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. Early Friday evening, the streets in the capital, Tunis, were quiet.

As part of the emergency, people in gatherings of three or more will be arrested or, if they try to run away and can't be stopped, will be fired on.

Earlier Friday, police, wielding batons and firing tear gas, dispersed demonstrators, a show of force that aggravated a peaceful gathering in the capital.

Security forces were seen brutally beating protesters, and the demonstrators fled. Fires were seen in the center of Tunis and downtown, and smoke was coming from a couple of locations.

The incident underscored concerns among Tunisians and in the international community that security forces have been badly overreacting to peaceful gatherings of protesters. The education level in Tunisia is relatively high for the Arab world, and the country is closely linked to France and French culture.


The United States, France, and Britain have issued travel advisories, strongly warning against non-essential visits, and a tourism company announced the evacuation of 2,000 German vacationers.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the organization is closely monitoring the situation in Tunisia and has called for restraint, respect for freedom of expression, and dialogue to resolve problems peacefully.

Earlier, thousands congregated in front of the Interior Ministry and chanted slogans such as "Get out!" and "Freedom for Tunisia!"

Haykal Maki, a pro-opposition lawyer who was in the throng, said protesters wanted a "regime change," the resignation of Ben Ali and lawsuits addressing the regime's corruption.

The wave of demonstrations in Tunisia -- in which people ae protesting high unemployment, alleged corruption, rising prices and a limitations on rights -- was sparked by the suicide of an unemployed college graduate, a man who torched himself in December after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting off his source of income.

Ben Ali on Thursday vowed to cut prices of basic foodstuffs, to lift censorship and to ensure police do not use live ammunition except in self-defense, and he indicated that he would not run again for president.

There was no evidence that live ammunition was used in Tunis on Friday to disperse the crowd.

"Enough violence," Ben Ali said after at least 21 people had died in days of riots.


"I also gave orders to the interior minister ... not to use live ammunition. It is unacceptable and unjustified unless someone uses his weapon and forces you to defend yourself," he said.

Ben Ali said he had asked the prime minister to reduce prices of staples, including sugar, milk and bread, and said he had decided to give "complete freedom to all media outlets ... as long as they respect our values and the value of the profession."

The 74-year-old president added that he would not push to change the law setting an age limit for presidential candidates in the next election, set for 2014.

By then, he would have exceeded the 75-year age limit. "There will not be presidency for life," he said.

Organized mainly by the country's lawyers' union and other unions, Friday's demonstration came under the watchful eye of a contingent of riot police officers.

But the protesters were not shy about slamming the government and Ben Ali. Demonstrators shouted, "Public trial for the president's family!" and "Yes to water and bread, but no to Ben Ali!"

Reem Ben Yousef, a 37-year-old university professor, told CNN the protesters say the ruling family has robbed citizens and they want them to depart from public life.

Reem said that Ben Ali's address was staged and he was cynical about the presence of a pro-government demonstration after his speech.

"We do not believe in Ben Ali and his regime," she said.





Source: cnn

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