Friday, January 14, 2011

Popular protests topple an Arab dictator

TUNIS — President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has left the country amid growing chaos in the streets, French diplomats say, and the prime minister went on state television Friday night to say he is temporarily in charge.

A French Foreign Ministry official said authorities did not know where the president had gone, and representatives of the president were not immediately available to confirm the report.

There were also unconfirmed reports that the country’s airspace had been closed.

In his speech to the country, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said that “as the president of the republic is unable to exercise his functions for the time being, I have assumed, starting now, the powers of the president.”

“I call on all sons and daughters of Tunisia,” the prime minister said, “to show the spirit of patriotism and unity in order to enable our country, which is dear to all of us, to overcome this difficult phase and restore its security and stability.”

The apparent fall of Mr. Ben Ali would mark the first time that widespread demonstrations had overthrown an Arab leader.
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