Africa

Tunisian swears in interim president amid chaos

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Media captionThe BBC's Adam Mynott: Homes and businesses owned by the former president have been targeted

Tunisia has sworn in a new interim leader as looting and deadly jail riots rocked the country, a day after President Ben Ali was swept from power.

Parliament Speaker Foued Mebazaa took the oath, pledging a unity government that could include the opposition.

Fires burned out of control in the capital, Tunis, and there was shooting after celebrations marking Mr Ben Ali's flight to Saudi Arabia.

A curfew is back in force - troops are guarding key roads and buildings.

Two people were reported to have been shot dead by soldiers near the interior ministry.

Gunfire crackled throughout Saturday in the capital, some of it blamed on supporters of former President Ben Ali apparently trying to destabilise the precarious situation. The city's streets were largely deserted.

Image caption People have been attacking property and stealing across Tunisia

The BBC's Adam Mynott, in Tunis, says the country has been thrown into unprecedented turmoil by recent events.

He says looting and theft is going on everywhere and the immediate future of the country is in the hands of the military - police are conspicuously absent.

Despite a state of emergency declared on Friday, people have been emptying shops and destroying property across the country. Businesses and buildings connected with the former president and his family were singled out and attacked.

French-owned supermarkets were also targeted and the main railway station in Tunis was badly damaged by fire.

Saturday's deadliest incident appears to have been in the resort of Monastir, about 160km (100 miles) south of Tunis, where fire swept though a prison, killing at least 42 people.

It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze - inmates are believed to have been attempting to escape, as they did at a number of other jails where violence was reported.

Tunis Carthage International Airport, which was closed amid Friday's unrest, re-opened on Saturday. Hundreds of tourists and other foreigners have been trapped there. Many have been airlifted home.

Talks

Amid the unrest and uncertainty Mr Mebazaa took over as acting president.

Image caption Speaker Foued Mebazaa has been sworn in as interim president

He said he had asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi - who confusingly had earlier said he was in temporary charge - to form a national unity government.

"All Tunisians without exception and exclusion must be associated in the political process," Mr Mebazaa said in a televised address.

Talks between the interim administration and political parties are due to resume on Sunday. Under the constitution a new presidential election must be held within 60 days.

BBC correspondents say people are waiting for some indication that the interim administration is prepared to bring in widespread economic and political changes.

Meanwhile, the exiled head of Tunisia's Islamist party has said he will return to the country within weeks and would be prepared to take part in any unity government.

Speaking to the BBC in London, Rachid Ghannouchi said the Tunisian people had got rid of a dictator, but were a long way from bringing down the dictatorship.

'Democratic will'

The leader of neighbouring Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, has meanwhile spoken out against the uprising, saying the ensuing violence was "not worth it".

"You have suffered a great loss... There is none better than Zine (Mr Ben Ali) to govern Tunisia," he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

He added that he still considered Mr Ben Ali to be the "legal president of Tunisia".

In the past month, protests have swept the country over unemployment, food price rises and corruption. Security forces used live ammunition against protesters and dozens of people died.

Mr Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years, was only Tunisia's second president. He conceded power on Friday after the unrest culminated in a giant rally against him in Tunis.

He flew out of Tunisia with his family and, after the French government rejected a request for his plane to land there, was allowed to refuel in Sardinia before landing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy said Tunisians had "expressed their democratic will" and he urged the country to hold free elections as soon as possible.

His government says it has directed banks in France to block "suspicious" movements of assets belonging to Mr Ben Ali and his family.

There has been little official reaction from Tunisia's Arab neighbours to the events.

The UK, the US and France are among countries advising against non-essential travel to Tunisia.

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