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Saturday
Jan152011

Tunisia Wildly Unstable After President Flees to Saudi Arabia

Photo Courtesy - GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty Images(TUNIS, Tunisia) -- Weeks of street violence that drove the Tunisian president from power raged on Saturday, despite President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's Friday flight to Saudi Arabia.

The street protests erupted four weeks ago over allegations of government corruption and unemployment.  The violence escalated in recent days until Friday's wild turn of events.  The president made a desperate attempt to remain in office by declaring he was dismissing his government and legislative elections would be held in six months, but it was too late.  He was forced out by ever-widening protests and street violence, and the country's prime minister tried to assume power.  Protesters then demanded he, Mohamed Ghannouchi, be removed from government.

The highest legal authority in Tunisia, the Constitutional Council, has now declared Parliament Speaker Fouad Mebazaa in control, with elections to be held within 60 days.

The streets are smoke-filled and bloody, with reports of roving gangs of men firing shots as they drive through Tunis.  They are believed to be forces still loyal to the ousted president, Ben Ali, hoping to further destabilize the already shaky and high-speed transition of power.   A prison was burned Friday night and dozens of prisoners were killed.   

The Arab country has a population of 10 million people.  Ben Ali has been president for 23 years.  Experts say this rapid change may be a new beginning for a people long robbed of free speech and self-determination.  That depends on whether stability can be quickly established and deep reforms agreed upon.  The next few days will be crucial.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio