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Tunisian President Flees Country Amid Unrest


Smoke rises from fire left after clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Tunis, Tunisia, 14 Jan 2011

Smoke rises from fire left after clashes between security forces and demonstrators in Tunis, Tunisia, 14 Jan 2011

Tunisia's President has fled the country and the prime minister has announced he is in charge Friday after protests and riots rocked the capital.

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power amid reports the country's president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had fled the country. The army has sealed off the airport and closed Tunisian airspaced.

Earlier President Ben Ali announced a state of emergency and fired the government following the worst unrest to hit this North African country in decades.

Earlier in the day, thousands of protesters demonstrated in Tunis demanding President Ben Ali step down. The main Habib Bourguiba Boulevard was a sea of humanity, as young and old, well-off and poor, chanted for change.

Watch Ravi Khanna's Companion TV Report:

One young man said the message was clear: Tunisians had lost confidence in their government. They want someone who can serve the country, serve its people. Many other protesters voiced similar sentiments.

But the demonstrations took an ugly turn in the afternoon. Riot police came out in force. People scattered. Young men lobbed objects at the police who responded with tear gas.

The government announced a curfew, sealing Tunisians and foreigners in their homes. Tunis hospital officials reported 13 dead late Thursday. There were no immediate reports of a casualty toll Friday.

The unrest began several weeks ago, touched off by the death of a man in southern Tunisia who set himself on fire to protest his inability to sell his produce. It was fanned by the Internet and by Tunisians angry about economic hardship and perceived corruption among top Tunisian politicians. Dozens of people have died in the unrest, although government officials and human rights groups offer vastly different tallies.

Slide show of scenes in Tunisia

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