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Monday, January 17, 2011     GET REAL

Tunisian is the first Arab dictator to be ousted
by people power

CAIRO — Tunisia's strongman has fled the country, marking the first time an Arab ruler was ousted by street protests.


  • Related Story: Divided Tunisian security forces battle each other for control January 17

  • President Zine El Abidine Bin Ali fled Tunisia as he lost the support of the military and much of the security forces amid nationwide riots. Bin Ali, president since 1987, flew to Saudi Arabia, which offered him asylum.

    Bin Ali, 74, who left Tunis on Jan. 14, was replaced by former parliamentary speaker Fuad Mebazaa as riots continued in several cities, Middle East Newsline reported. This marked the first time a president has fled an Arab League state because of popular unrest.

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    More than 110 people have been killed in clashes between security forces and rioters. On Jan. 15, at least 50 inmates were said to have died in two prison fires as another 1,000 inmates were released by authorities.

    Military units have been battling rioters in several Tunisian cities. Officials said the military was summoned to stop a rebellion in a prison in the Tunisian coastal city of Mahdia.

    Authorities were trying to restore calm amid what appeared to be a power struggle in Tunisia, an ally of the United States and regarded as the most modern state in North Africa. Mebazaa, 77, appeared on national television and called for a new government that would include the opposition.

    Later, however, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, a longtime ally of Bin Ali, said he would head the next government in the North African state. But the chairman of Tunisia's constitutional court said elections would be held in 60 days and that Mebazaa was the interim successor.

    "I call on Tunisians of all political persuasions and from all regions to demonstrate patriotism and unity," Ghannouchi said.

    Bin Ali fled Tunis hours after the military was withdrawn from the capital. Earlier, the opposition rejected Bin Ali's offer to halt live fire by security forces, create 300,000 jobs by 2013 and not run again for president.

    The exiled 74-year-old president was said to have first sought asylum in France, which rejected Bin Ali's appeal. Instead, the French government froze all Tunisian assets.

    "France has taken the necessary steps to ensure suspicious financial movements concerning Tunisian assets in France are blocked administratively," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a statement. "France is prepared to meet any request for help to ensure the democratic process takes place in indisputable fashion."

    Saudi Arabia has acknowledged that Bin Ali arrived in the port city of Jedda. An official Saudi statement suggested that the ousted president would be allowed to stay permanently in the Gulf Cooperation Council kingdom.

    "The kingdom of Saudi Arabia stands totally alongside the brotherly Tunisian people and hopes that they will close ranks in order to overcome this difficult period in their history," a Saudi palace statement said on Jan. 15.

    Arab opposition groups, including Al Qaida Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, hailed the end of the Bin Ali era. They said the fall of the Tunisian president could spark similar efforts in such countries as Algeria, Jordan and GCC states.

    "I can name some three to four other countries where people are starving and their rulers are stealing public wealth," Yusef Al Qaradawi, regarded as the most prominent Sunni cleric and based in Qatar, said.

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