Voice of America: Tunisian President Leaves Country Amid Unrest
Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has left the country, amid the worst unrest there in decades. The Arabic language network al-Jazeera says the speaker of parliament is temporarily in charge.
The president was reported to have boarded a flight out of the country Friday evening local time. The military had sealed off the airport and closed Tunisian airspace a short time beforehand.
A state of emergency was also declared earlier Friday, with public gatherings banned and security forces authorized to shoot violators.
Dozens of people have been killed in rioting over unemployment and high food prices, with many protesters demanding Mr. Ben Ali resign. The exact death toll is not clear.
The president had earlier dismissed his government and called for early elections.
Police fired tear gas at protesters in the capital Tunis, and reporters saw officers beating and chasing demonstrators. Witnesses also said shots were heard Friday near the interior ministry.
Hospital officials said 13 people were killed late Thursday - the same day that President Ben Ali announced concessions to try to stop deadly riots.
Tunisia, officially the Tunisian Republic (al-Jumhūriyya at-Tūnisiyya), is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area is almost 165,000 km², with an estimated population of just over 10.3 million. Its name is derived from the capital Tunis located in the north-east.
A Maghreb country refers generally to five countries located in North Africa, although it is most commonly used for French North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). It is an Arabic word, literally meaning "place of sunset" or "the west" (from an Arabian perspective). The term is generally now used, mainly by Arabs, to refer collectively to the African countries of:
and the disputed territory of Western Sahara.
However, before the establishment of modern nation states in the region in the 20th century, "Maghreb" signified the smaller area that lies between the high ranges of the Atlas Mountains in the south, and the Mediterranean Sea in the north, thus excluding most of Libya and all of current Mauritania. Sometimes, after Islam entered the region, the term has included the previously Muslim Andalusia, Sicily, and Malta.