Looting and riots engulf Tunisia

Looting and riots engulf Tunisia


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

Looting, deadly prison riots and street chaos engulfed Tunisia the day after mass protests forced its strongman to flee.

A new interim president was sworn in, promising to create a unity government that could include the long-ignored opposition.

It was the second change of power in this North African nation in less than 24 hours.

Saturday night appeared calmer than the previous night, which saw looters empty shops and torch the capital’s main train station as well as some shops.

As military helicopters patrolled overhead, residents in some neighbourhoods armed themselves with sticks and clubs, forming impromptu militias to protect their homes. Saturday also saw soldiers trade fire with assailants in front of the Interior Ministry, while thousands of European tourists scrambled to find flights home.

The death toll mounted. At least 42 people were killed on Saturday in a prison fire in one resort town and the director of another prison in another tourist haven let 1,000 inmates flee after soldiers shot five dead amid a rebellion.

Those deaths came on top of scores of others after a month of protests in which police often fired upon demonstrators.

After 23 years of autocratic rule, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali abruptly fled the country on Friday for Saudi Arabia following mass street protests over corruption, a lack of jobs and clampdowns on civil liberties.

The leadership changes then came at a dizzying speed. Mr Ben Ali’s long-time ally, prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, stepped in briefly with a vague assumption of power that left open the possibility that Mr Ben Ali could return. But on Saturday, the head of the Constitutional Council declared the president’s departure permanent and gave Fouad Mebazaa, leader of the lower house of parliament, 60 days to organise new elections.

Hours later, Mr Mebazaa was sworn in.

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