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AU Recognizes Tunisia's Speaker as Interim Leader

Tunisian speaker of the lower house of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, takes an oath as interim President of Tunisia, in Tunis, 15 Jan 2011

Tunisian speaker of the lower house of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, takes an oath as interim President of Tunisia, in Tunis, 15 Jan 2011

Africa's highest security body has recognized the speaker of Tunisia's national assembly as interim leader until fresh elections are held. The African Union Peace and Security Council condemned the excessive use of force against demonstrators in Tunis.

Meeting in emergency session Saturday, the 15-member Peace and Security Council expressed concern at ongoing developments in Tunisia, and urged an end to all acts of violence.

AU Peace and Security Director el-Ghassim Wane says the Council indicated its satisfaction with news that Tunisia's Constitutional Court had named the national assembly speaker as interim leader pending elections.

"Yesterday the prime minister announced he was taking charge of the situation on the basis of Article 56," said Wane. "We just learned that the Constitutional Court has decided that they should rather follow Article 57, and we believe, at least the interpretation of counsel is that so far the Tunisians have been acting within the framework of their constitution."

In cases where a leader is ousted without elections, the Peace and Security Council often suspends the country's AU membership. But Wane said in this case, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's ouster was considered legitimate, and no action would be taken.

"No effect, in the sense that the transition was done in accordance with the constitution," added Wane. "The speaker of the national assembly was designated to lead the transition, and that is in line with the relevant provisions of the constitution of Tunisia."

Wane said barring any unforeseen developments, Tunisia would be seated as a member in good standing at the African Union summit later this month in Addis Ababa.

One Peace and Security Council ambassador, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said many members had expressed hope that all African countries would use events in Tunis as a lesson, because in his words, what is happening now in Tunisia is what could happen to other dictators.

The Council statement urged Tunisia's interim leaders to promptly organize elections to elect a successor to President Ben Ali. The authoritarian leader's rule came to an abrupt end Friday when he fled to Saudi Arabia in the face of month-long protests over unemployment and rising food prices.

More than a dozen protestors were reported killed Thursday before Mr. Ben Ali fled, and rioters were reported looting and setting fires on the streets of Tunis Saturday.