Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali Forced Out, Flees to France
Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been forced out of office by a mass movement characterized by widespread protests and anti-government demonstrations. Ben Ali is only the second Tunisian president since the country won independence from France and has been in office for 23 years. Until recently, Tunisia was considered a beacon of stability in the Maghreb, but a state of emergency was declared in the midst of nationwide protests over unemployment, rising food and housing prices, corruption, and authoritarianism.
The official death toll in almost a month of violence was 23. However, Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights said it had a list of at least 66 people killed. The civil unrest was sparked in Sidi Bouzid when a jobless man, a graduate, set fire to himself as an act of protest. Developments in Tunisia are being followed closely by people and regimes in the region.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said he would take over as interim President until elections can be held. Ben Ali is believed to be heading to France.
There are reports of tanks and armored carriers on the streets of Tunis, the country’s capital. The street were reported deserted. The now former President Ben Ali appeared on Tunisian television on Thursday to announce that this would be his last term as President, and that he would order police to stop firing on protesters. He also promised to relax restrictions on speech within the country. As a gesture, websites such as YouTube and Google which had previously banned were made accessible.