Tunisia’s ousted president has arrived in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s state news agency has reported.
The Saudi Press Agency cited a statement from the office of King Abdullah that said: “We have welcomed in the Saudi kingdom the arrival of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family.”
The statement said the decision to accept Mr Ben Ali was made in light of “the exceptional circumstances the Tunisian people are going through” and with a “wish for peace and security to the people of Tunis”.
Earlier, prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi appeared on state television to say he is assuming power in riot-torn Tunisia.
The announcement came after thousands of protesters mobbed the capital of Tunis to demand the removal of the president.
In response to the riots, the president declared a state of emergency in the North African nation, dissolved the government and promised new legislative elections within six months.
Ben Ali had faced his toughest challenge yet in 23 years of repressive rule after weeks of anti-government riots across the North African nation. Thousands of foreign tourists were being evacuated after medical officials reported 13 people had died in clashes on Thursday after the president announced concessions.
Protesters filled the capital, fuelled by pent-up anger at high unemployment and at a leadership many see as controlling and corrupt. Marching through the city, they demanded Ben Ali’s resignation and some even climbed onto the roof of the Interior Ministry.
UK operator Thomas Cook said it was asking its roughly 3,800 British, Irish and German customers in Tunisia to leave the country, while some 200 Dutch tourists were repatriated on Thursday night via a chartered flight. US and European governments have issued a series of travel alerts warning citizens away from nonessential travel to Tunisia.
In Paris, an Air France spokeswoman confirmed that Tunisia’s air space had been ordered closed, adding that the French airline had stopped all its flights there until further notice. Lutfhansa also cancelled its only flight to Tunis from Frankfurt.