Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

PM assumes power amid Tunisia riots

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has gone on state television to say he is assuming power in riot-torn Tunisia.

The announcement came after thousands of protesters mobbed the capital of Tunis to demand the removal of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

In response to the riots, the president declared a state of emergency in the North African nation, dissolved the government and promised new legislative elections within six months. Unconfirmed news reports, citing unidentified government sources in Tunisia, said Ben Ali had left the country.

Ben Ali had faced his toughest challenge yet in 23 years of repressive rule after weeks of anti-government riots across the North African nation. Thousands of foreign tourists were being evacuated after medical officials reported 13 people had died in clashes on Thursday after the president announced concessions.

Protesters filled the capital, fuelled by pent-up anger at high unemployment and at a leadership many see as controlling and corrupt. Marching through the city, they demanded Ben Ali's resignation and some even climbed onto the roof of the Interior Ministry.

In response, Ben Ali dissolved the government and also promised that early legislative elections would take place within six months, the official TAP news agency reported. He made no reference to any resignation of his own.

Under the state of emergency, a curfew barring the circulation of people or vehicles took effect immediately until 7am on Saturday, TAP said. Security forces and soldiers "can use their weapons against any suspicious person who doesn't respect the order to stop or tries to flee," it warned.

UK operator Thomas Cook said it was asking its roughly 3,800 British, Irish and German customers in Tunisia to leave the country, while some 200 Dutch tourists were repatriated on Thursday night via a chartered flight. US and European governments have issued a series of travel alerts warning citizens away from nonessential travel to Tunisia.

In Paris, an Air France spokeswoman confirmed that Tunisia's air space had been ordered closed, adding that the French airline had stopped all its flights there until further notice. Lutfhansa also cancelled its only flight to Tunis from Frankfurt.

The North African tourist haven is reeling from nearly a month of riots and a heavy-handed police response that has been condemned from abroad. At least 23 people have been killed according to the government, but opposition members put the death toll at three times that.


From Belfast Telegraph