Tunisia unrest as president flees


Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has arrived in Saudi Arabia (AP)

Unrest has engulfed Tunisia after a popular rebellion forced the president to flee.

Dozens of inmates were killed in a prison fire, looters emptied shops and torched the main train station and gunfire echoed through the capital.

Power changed hands for the second time in 24 hours in the North African country after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country on Friday for Saudi Arabia.

The head of the Constitutional Court has declared that Ben Ali had left office for good, not temporally, negating the prime minister’s move to assume power.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, temporarily took the highest office, and he has two months to organise new elections.

Anger over corruption and the lack of jobs ignited a month of protests, but Ben Ali’s departure – a key demand of demonstrators – has not calmed the unrest. While the protests were mostly peaceful, after Ben Ali’s departure rioters burned the main train station in Tunis and looted shops.

A fire in a prison in the Mediterranean coastal resort of Monastir killed 42 people, coroner Tarek Mghirbi said. The cause of the fire was not clear.

Sporadic gunfire was heard in the capital of Tunis. Smoke billowed over a giant supermarket outside the capital as looters torched and emptied it. The army fired warning shots to scare them away, to little avail.

Soldiers have intervened to try to stop looters from sacking the huge supermarket in the Ariana area, 20 miles north of the capital. Shops near the main bazaar were also looted.

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