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Tunisian President Ousted by Protests Over Unemployment and Food Prices
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14 Jan 2011 06:42 PM EST

- by Janice Vanos, Contributing Writer; Image: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed office on November 7, 1987 before being forced out today, January 14, 2011

Serving as president since November of 1987, protestors forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia out of office today following a week of violent riots that rocked the North African nation.

Tunisia, located in North Africa and wedged between Algeria and Lybia, has been plagued by public discontent over high food prices and unemployment.

These protests, which had been going on for a week, finally reached the Tunisian capital, Tunis, on Friday.  Protestors clashed with police outside of the interior ministry building.  Police responded by firing off tear gas.

An attempted suicide on December 17 triggered the nation's current unrest.  Mohammed Bousazizi, a graduate student, set himself on fire in an attempt to kill himself. 

This action brought to light the nation's growing woes over unemployment and high inflation, which has led to high food prices.

President Ben Ali, who had promised to step down in 2014, dissolved his government and the country's parliament in response to the growing violence.

The BBC and al-Jazeera, citing a Maltese tower control operator, report that he was on a plane that tried to seek asylum in France.  France reportedly turned down the Ben Ali's request.

Other sources say that Ben Ali's plane was heading toward either the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia.

Enter the Prime Minister

Shortly after the president's resignation, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi cited chapter 56 of Tunisia's constitution, declared a state of emergency, and is now the interim leader of the country. 

Chapter 56 calls for the prime minister to assume power if the president is incapacitated such that he, or she, is unable to exercise his, or her, daily tasks and responsibilities.   

Some are already claiming that Ghannouchi's actions were unconstitutional since chapter 56 calls for the prime minister to assume power under very specific circumstances.  The president's apparent resignation is not one of those circumstances, they argue.

The Tunisian army is said to be heading toward the capital now in order to take control of the situation and to take management away from the nation's interior security forces, which Tunisians view in a negative light.

Ghannouchi, 69, has been prime minister since 1999 and was a strong ally of Ben Ali, leading many to think that his ascendance will not bring any improvement to the daily lives of Tunisians.

Both France and the United States have been vocal about the current developments in the North African nation.

"Only dialogue can bring a democratic and lasting solution to the current crisis," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a statement.

Obama called for peace and democracy in Tunisia while Western governments advised their cities to avoid travel to the former French colony.

Ben Ali, 74, was the second president of Tunisia.  Tunisia became independent in 1956.

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