Tunisia rocks Middle East
A day after the president’s ejection, calls for protests reverberate.
tunis — Looting, deadly prison riots and street chaos engulfed Tunisia on Saturday, a day after mass protests forced its strongman to flee. A new interim president was sworn in, promising to create a unity government that could include the long-ignored opposition.
It was the second change of power in this North African nation in less than 24 hours.
Amid the political instability, looters emptied shops and torched the main train station in Tunis, and soldiers traded fire with assailants in front of the Interior Ministry.
The death toll mounted. At least 42 people were killed Saturday in a prison fire in the Mediterranean coastal resort of Monastir, and the director of another prison, in Mahdia, a tourist haven farther down the coast, let 1,000 inmates flee after soldiers shot five dead amid a rebellion. Those deaths followed scores of others after a month of protests in which police often fired upon demonstrators.
After 23 years of autocratic rule, President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country Friday for Saudi Arabia following mass street protests over corruption, a lack of jobs and clampdowns on civil liberties. The leadership changes came at a dizzying speed.
Ben Ali’s longtime ally, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannoushi, stepped in briefly with a vague assumption of power that left open the possibility that Ben Ali could return. But on Saturday, the head of the Constitutional Council declared the president’s departure permanent and gave Fouad Mebazaa, leader of the lower house of parliament, 60 days to organize new elections.
Hours later, Mebazaa, 77, was sworn in. In his first televised address, the interim president asked the premier to form a “national unity government in the country’s best interests” in which all political parties will be consulted.