New president amid Tunisia unrest

New president amid Tunisia unrest


Tunisian speaker of the lower house of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, takes an oath as interim president (AP)

Tunisia has sworn in a new interim president as the nation grapples with looting, deadly prison riots and chaos in the streets.

Looters emptied shops and torched the main railway station in the capital Tunis, and soldiers traded fire with attackers in front of the interior ministry in the city.

At least 42 people were killed on Saturday in a prison fire in a resort town, and the director of another jail let 1,000 inmates walk free after a deadly rebellion.

The interim president – Fouad Mebazaa, the former president of the lower house of parliament – ordered the creation of a unity government that could include the opposition, which had been frozen out and ignored under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23 years of autocratic rule.

Ben Ali abruptly fled the country on Friday for Saudi Arabia following a month of street protests over corruption, a lack of jobs and clampdowns on civil liberties.

Yet while the protests were mostly peaceful, the first day after his departure was chaotic – and deadly.

The leadership changes came at a dizzying speed. After Ben Ali left, his long-time ally PM Mohammed Ghannouchi stepped in briefly with a vague assumption of power that left open the possibility that Ben Ali could return.

But Constitutional Council president Fethi Abdennadher then declared the president’s departure permanent and gave Mr Mebazaa 60 days in which to organise new elections. Hours later, Mr Mebazaa was sworn in.

In his first televised address, he said he asked the premier to form a “national unity government in the country’s best interests” in which all political parties will be consulted “without exception nor exclusion”.

The move was one of reconciliation, but it was not clear how far 77-year-old Mr Mebazaa, who has been part of Tunisia’s ruling class for decades, would go to invite the opposition into the government.

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