Tu­nisia rocks Mid­dle East

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA AND ELAINE GAN­LEY

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.

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