News / Africa

    Tunisia Constitutional Council Appoints Interim Head of State

    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

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    Tunisia's highest constitutional body has appointed the head of the lower house of parliament as temporary head of the North African country, after massive protests drove longstanding leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from the country.

    A day after massive protests and riots toppled Tunisia's authoritarian president, Tunisians ventured into the streets of the capital to survey the damage and digest the historic events. Riot police and army tanks were out in force and helicopters flew overhead.

    While most ordinary Tunisians were barred from venturing down the main Habib Bourguiba Avenue - scene of massive demonstrations and rioting on Friday - other streets were open to traffic and pedestrians.

    Basma Moussa, a woman in her 50s, surveyed the damage. Charred objects littered the sidewalks and smashed store windows. Rioters burned Tunis' main station and looted many shops.

    Moussa said she was sad to see Tunis in such bad shape. But she was proud of Tunisians for toppling their longtime president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Tunisians are tired, she said, and they are poor.


    Tunisia Country Profile

    • Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Libya
    • Population: 10,589,025 (July 2010 est.)
    • Ethnic Groups: Arab 98%, European 1%, Jewish and other 1%
    • Religion: Muslim 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
    • Languages: Arabic , French
    • Government: Republic
    • History: Tunisia declared independence from France on March 20, 1956. Habib Bourguiba was Tunisia's first president. He was deposed by then-Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Nov. 7, 1987. Mr. Ben Ali was elected to a fifth consecutive term in office in October 2009.

    The constitutional council says President Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia Friday night, has left power for good.

    Here in Tunis, many are divided about the future. Some are hopeful the country would finally become the true democracy they yearned for. Others are fearful that yet another authoritarian regime would come to power.

    Fifty-three-year-old business owner Anouar Frika recalled the last power change in 1987, when the country's long-time leader Habib Bourguiba was removed from office and Mr. Ben Ali replaced him.

    Then, Frika says, Mr. Ben Ali promised change - but that never happened. Nor does he have much confidence in Tunisia's political parties right now. But he thinks that with time they will learn what democracy is all about. He is glad law enforcement authorities are out to keep order on the streets.

    But 27-year-old Marouen Gara is more pessimistic.

    Gara said protesters created a revolution and want freedom. Now he sees police on the street. He says this is not the freedom they had hoped for.

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