speaker of Tunisia's parliament, Foued Mbazaa, was Saturday named
the country's interim president, following the dramatic departure
of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisia's Constitutional Council named the 77-year-old Mbazaa
interim president, state television reported, after Ben Ali fled
the country Friday in the wake of escalating protests.
While Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi initially took
over the reins of power, the move was criticised by opposition
The North African country's Constitutional Council said that under
the constitution, the speaker of parliament, and not the prime
minister, becomes interim president. The council also said that
fresh presidential elections would have to be held within 60 days.
Ben Ali left Tunisia after a month of popular revolt that claimed
dozens of lives. He had earlier fired his government and announced
early elections. His plane landed in the Saudi Arabian city of
Jeddah, local media reported Saturday.
Saudi officials welcomed Ben Ali and his family, while also
wishing "security and stability" to the people of Tunisia, the SPA
news agency reported.
According to French media, Ben Ali opted to travel to Saudi Arabia
after he was denied the right to flee to France.
It was not clear whether Ben Ali was forced to leave or had done
so of his own accord. On Friday, Ghannouchi said Ben Ali's return
to Tunisia was "impossible".
Opposition politician Mustafa Ben Jaafar said the collapse of Ben
Ali's government was no surprise.
"The regime had collapsed a long time ago," he said. "There are a
lot of opposition groups that came together and have been active
in a variety of areas. But the last month was particularly
important. The people have woken up and lost their fear."
Meanwhile, looting and unrest continued to plague Tunisia
Saturday, a day after a state of emergency was declared. Witnesses
said the central train station in the capital Tunis was on fire
overnight despite a nationwide curfew.
Supermarkets and residential buildings had also been set ablaze or
looted and one hospital was attacked, reports said. Several of the
targeted buildings were owned by relatives of Ben Ali.
Criminal gangs were taking advantage of the chaos and looting
stores, Ben Jaafar told broadcaster France Info, adding that many
government buildings had been attacked.
The Tunisian military was out in force Saturday in an attempt to
reassert control, with troops marching through the centre of Tunis
and helicopters circling through columns of smoke wafting up from
But several Tunisians told journalists that they suspected the
military itself was behind the plundering as it took advantage of
a power vacuum.
Hundreds of European holidaymakers fled the country. German tour
operators cancelled all flights to Tunisia. However, many other
European tourists remain stranded in the country.
Ben Ali, a 74-year-old former interior minister, had been
president since 1987, replacing self-styled "president for life"
Habib Bourguiba when he was deposed in a coup.