Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali has stepped aside after failing to quell the worst anti-government unrest in his two decades in power.
In a television address, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi says he has taken over on an interim basis.
Ghannouchi said he would respect the constitution and restore stability. “I vow that I will respect the constitution and implement the political, economic and social reforms that have been announced … in consultation with all political sides including political parties and civil society,” he said in a live address.
As he spoke there were reports that the army had surrounded Tunis airport and closed Tunisian airspace. In other reports it was claimed that members of the ex-President’s extended family were arrested by the security forces at the airport.
Earlier Tunisian Television reported a curfew has been imposed across the country from 5.00pm on Friday until 7.00 on Saturday morning. It is also reported that the security forces have been given orders to use force against anyone not obeying their orders. A state of emergency was declared.
This follows President Ben Ali’s dismissal of the government and announcement of elections to be held within six months. TV images from Tunisia’s capital Tunis showed the security forces breaking up demonstrations outside the interior ministry using tear gas.
The protesters filled the streets all, demanding the immediate resignation of the president, who had offered to step down in 2014 but not before.
The anti-government demonstrations were sparked when police prevented an unemployed graduate from selling fruit without a licence and he set fire to himself, dying shortly afterwards of his burns.
The French and UK governments have advised their citizens not to go to the popular tourist destination unless absolutely necessary and some tour operators are pulling their customers out of the country. Others have cancelled flights amid fears that tourists could get caught up in the unrest.