TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- Unrest engulfed Tunisia on Saturday 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 this North
African country after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the
country Friday for Saudi Arabia. The head of the Constitutional
Court declared Saturday that Ben Ali has left office for good, not
temporally, negating the prime minister's move to assume power.
Flames of hate: Hordes of protesters against the president hurl rocks at police yesterday during clashes on the streets of Tunis. (AP-Yonhap)
The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa,
temporarily took the highest office, and he has two months to
organize new elections.
Anger over corruption and the lack of jobless 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 told The AP on
Saturday. The cause of the fire was not immediately clear.
Sporadic gunfire was heard in the capital of Tunis on Saturday.
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.
An Associated Press photographer saw soldiers intervene Saturday
to try to stop looters from sacking the huge supermarket in the
Ariana area, 30 kilometers (20 miles) north of the capital. Shops
near the main bazaar were also looted.
A helicopter circled low over the capital, apparently acting as a
spotter for fires or pillaging. Gunfire crackled anew Saturday
Public television station TV7 broadcast phone calls from
residents of working-class neighborhoods on the capital's outskirts,
describing attacks against their homes by knife-wielding assailants.
Thousands of tourists were evacuated from the Mediterranean
nation known for its sandy beaches, desert landscapes and ancient
Saudi King Abdullah's palace confirmed Saturday that the ousted
president and his family had landed in Saudi Arabia, saying the
kingdom welcomed him with a wish for ``peace and security to return
to the people of Tunisia.''
When Ben Ali left after 23 years of iron-fisted rule, Prime
Minister 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
said Saturday that Ben Ali has permanently vacated his position and
lawmaker Mebazaa has up to 60 days to organize new elections.