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New interim president takes oath in Tunisia

Tunisia's former speaker of parliament, Foued Mebazaa, was sworn in as interim president on Saturday after ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country. Tunisia remains on edge as unrest continues.

Foued Mebazaa

Foued Mebazaa was sworn in as interim President on Saturday

Tunisia's former speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, was officially sworn in as the country's interim president on Saturday after the Constitutional Council declared the ousted head of state had "definitively" left power.

Mebazaa took the oath in parliament, where he swore to respect the consitution.

The council had declared earlier on Saturday that Mebazaa was the country's new interim president, thus ruling out any return to power of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's president for more than 23 years.

The country's highest legal authority on constitutional issues, the council also said the constitution requires new presidential elections to be held within 60 days, state television reported.

The council made its ruling at the request of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, who had temporarily taken over the role of interim president after Ben Ali fled the country on Friday.

The ousted leader arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. It was unclear whether the 74-year-old had been forced to leave or left of his own accord.

Looting and unrest

Mohamed Ghannouchi

Ghannouchi said Ben Ali's return to Tunisia was "impossible"

Tunisia was rattled by further unrest early on Saturday, despite Ben Ali's ouster after weeks of protests against the authoritarian regime.

Forty-two inmates died at a prison after an escape attempt in the costal resort city Monastir on Saturday, the official TAP news agency quoted a hospital official as saying.

"Some were able to escape and the others set fire to mattresses in a wing housing more than 90 prisoners. Those who died suffered from burns or smoke inhalation."

Gunshots could also be heard throughout the night and looting was reported in the suburbs of Tunis early Saturday morning, despite a nationwide curfew. Witnesses added that the central train station in the capital caught fire overnight.

Shops had shuttered their windows and streets were quieter on Saturday morning as army patrols in the city center were visibly increased.

The world reacts

Riot police officers detain a protestor during clashes in Tunis, Friday, Jan. 14, 2011

Some protesters have said their demonstrations have not come to an end

Global leader have called for free elections to be held in Tunisia, which has been rocked by citizen protests in recent weeks that left over 50 people dead after police responded with live ammunition.

"I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people," US President Barack Obama said in a statement, as he appealed for calm after weeks of violent protests in the North African country.

The European Union also gave its "support and recognition to the Tunisian people and their democratic aspirations, which should be achieved in a peaceful way."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "democratic outcome" to Tunisia's political crisis.

The UN leader called for "full respect for freedom of expression and association" and urged leaders to "resolve issues peacefully and lawfully" in a UN statement released Friday.

The holiday is over

Tour operators began evacuating European tourists as violence and looting continued.

Tour operator Thomas Cook pulled nearly 6,000 vacationers from Tunisia on Friday, and on Saturday spokesman Mathias Brandes said the company would dispatch several special flights to Tunisia in order to bring 1,800 remaining holiday-makers back to Germany.

tourists at airport

German tourists returning from Tunisia on Friday

Other operators also announced Saturday that they would send special flights to bring their remaining tourists home.

Tunisia's official news agency said Saturday that airspace and airports are again open for civilian flights after being closed Friday.

"The office for civil aviation and airports states Tunisian airspace and all the airports are open for air traffic, contrary to what has been reported in some media," the office said in a statement quoted by the official TAP news agency.

The protests in tightly controlled Tunisia were set off by the suicide attempt last month of Mohamed Bouazizi. The 26-year-old set himself on fire after police prevented him from selling fruit and vegetables without a license.

Author: Sarah Harman (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Sean Sinico

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