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Turmoil reigns in Tunisia as new leader is sworn in

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2011-01-16

Chaos gripped Tunisia Saturday as parliament speaker Fouad Mebazza (photo) became the country's third leader in 24 hours and security forces struggled to keep a lid on continuing unrest following President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali's abrupt departure.

Tunisia's Constitutional Council proclaimed parliament speaker Fouad Mebazza the interim president Saturday and called for new elections as security forces struggled to contain the unrest following the departure of President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali.

Mebazza's appointment came just hours after Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi had been named interim president by the now exiled Ben Ali. Later reports suggested Mebazza had asked Ghannouchi to form a national unity government.

The court, the country's highest legal authority on constitutional issues, said presidential elections must now be held within 60 days.

Ben Ali's decades-old rule abruptly ended Friday after weeks of unrest over unemployment, corruption and police clampdowns.

Fires, looting

In the wake of Ben Ali's exit, dozens of inmates were killed in a prison fire in the coastal city of Monastir, and looters emptied shops and torched the main train station in the capital, Tunis.

hops were shuttered and army patrols had a visible presence in the capital on Saturday, according to FRANCE 24's special correspondent Cyril Vanier.

“On Friday morning the protesters were still shouting anti-Ben Ali slogans. No one could have imagined that in less than 24 hours he would be gone,” said Vanier. “On Saturday, Tunisia has woken up to a new political configuration.”

“The situation is unprecedented in Tunisia’s democratic history,” Vanier added.

Hospitals confirmed that dozens of wounded patients had arrived overnight after renewed violence on the streets. Twelve people were reported killed on Thursday following clashes with the police. Prior to those reports the International Federation for Human Rights on Thursday had put the death toll since the beginning of the riots in mid-December at 66.

The wave of unrest was set off when an unemployed university graduate set himself on fire Dec. 17 after police confiscated the fruits and vegetables he was selling without a permit.

Dramatic climax

While the police clashed with Tunisian youth in Tunis and several other cities in early January, Ben Ali moved to appease the demonstrators, sacking his government, promising to free most of the protesters who had been arrested and even calling for early elections. But the reforms came too late.

Earlier on Friday the authorities had declared a state of emergency and an overnight curfew. But in a dramatic climax to the weeks of violent protests against his rule, Ben Ali fled with his family to Saudi Arabia.

The office of Saudi King Abdullah said in a statement that it had “welcomed” Ben Ali and his family because of its “respect for the exceptional circumstances the Tunisian people are going through and with its wish for peace and security.”

France’s image suffers blow

It was rumoured that before landing in the Saudi capital of Jedah, Ben Ali was trying to make his way to France. A source close to the French government told AFP it did not want to receive the deposed leader and that he would not be allowed to land in the territory.


Article 57 of Tunisia's constitution states that in case the Presidency of the Republic becomes vacant, the President of the National Parliament is invested temporarily with the functions of the Republic for a maximum period of 60 days.

During this period he has to organise new presidential election.

An interim president does not hold the right to dissolve parliament, stand for elections or change the constitution.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced on Saturday afternoon that it had taken steps to block any suspicious movements of Tunisian assets, and that it strongly backed the will of the Tunisian people.

The statement of support followed considerable criticism over Paris’s apparent reluctance to denounce the police crackdown during the weeks of protest in Tunisia. According to Burhan Ghalioun, Director of the Centre for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne, France’s image has suffered a catastrophic blow in the wake of the events in Tunisia.

“For three weeks [the French government] didn’t say anything, and when they finally spoke it called for dialogue,” Burham said. “It never recognised that an entire people was fighting for its liberty.”


Date created : 2011-01-15