Page last updated at 18:50 GMT, Saturday, 15 January 2011

As it happened: Tunisia turmoil after fall of Ben Ali

Smoke billowing from a supermarket in La Gazelle, Tunisia (15 January 2011)

Security has been stepped up in centre of the Tunisian capital, a day after President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power by street protests. Four weeks of street protests over unemployment, rising prices and corruption culminated in Mr Ben Ali's shock resignation, followed by his flight to Saudi Arabia.

1849 That concludes our live coverage of a second day of remarkable events in Tunisia, as the future of the country hangs in the balance. There have been reports of looting and gunfire, but also talk of possible moves towards democracy and a unity government.

1823 As the sun sets, Tunis is once again under curfew.

1815 Some people in Tunis are reporting that the shops are running out of food. "There isn't even any flour," one man told Reuters, "there is nothing. The VIPs have laundered the money and fled and now we are left struggling... My mother will die of starvation. I have not been able to get anything but some pasta and they say they will give us water." Another one said: "There is no flour, no bread and no water. All the stores are closed; only a few are left open." And a third added: "There is a lack of security despite so many soldiers in the streets; it is not enough."

1804 The exiled head of Tunisia's Islamist party says he plans to return to the country within weeks. Rachid Ghannouchi has told the BBC he is prepared to join a government of national unity but has not been invited to do so. Mr Ghannouchi says his party is a democratic Islamist movement and will not pose a threat of militancy if allowed to take part in democratic politics.

1757 Social media, especially in the Arab world, have been abuzz with events in Tunisia. Here is a roundup of some comments.

1745 Houeida Anouar in Gammarth has sent in this photo of herself and her friends preparing to repel the militia.
Residents of Gammarth preparing to fend off militia (photo from Houeida Ammar), 15 January 2011

1710 Paris says Mr Ben Ali's family members who took refuge in France are not welcome in the country and will be leaving. Two of the ousted president's daughters, Cyrine and Nesrine, are said to be in France. French media reports say they are staying in a hotel just outside Disneyland Paris.

1707 A small number of Egyptians have held a demonstration in Cairo in support of the Tunisian uprising, closely watched by the security forces. The signs in Arabic read: "Revolution in Tunis, tomorrow in Egypt".
Pro-Tunisian demonstration in Cairo, closely watched by the security forces (15 January 2011)

1648 Abdul Bari Atwan from the Al-Quds Al Arabi newspaper tells the BBC it is not clear that Tunisia will be ready for elections within 60 days. "Is the country ready for this? Is the infrastructure ready? We don't know yet. It is a state of confusion, but the people wouldn't go back to the Ben Ali regime anymore. They wouldn't accept the remains of the regime to take over. This is the only thing that is clear among this mess."

1643 Eyewitness reports from the centre of Tunis say there have been sporadic bursts of gunfire. AP says its reporters saw "two bodies lying on the ground", but it is not clear who they were, nor whether they were dead or injured.

1632 Houeida Anouar in the Tunisian city of Gammarth says people in her neighbourhood are organising to protect themselves from the militia. "We can hear helicopters overhead. The militia are driving around in cars with the licence plates removed but we recognise them because they are in the white Toyotas that belong to the security forces, as well as rental cars and trucks. This morning I saw the Army with a tank down at La Marsa beach. They were stopping anyone who they recognised as police or militia. They were pulling over any jeeps or vans that looked liked them."

1614 Australian student Elle Murrell, who is in Tunis, tells the BBC in an email: "Many petrol stations are empty/closed, the lines for others are huge, a similar problem with food supplies is begging to present itself (many supermarkets are now burnt or have been emptied by looters, adding to this problem)... People line the roads with bags on their back, hoping to hitchhike out of the city, fearing for the worst in the next few days."

1559 UK Foreign Secretary William Hague condmens the violence in Tunisia and calls for a rapid return to law and order. "I welcome the efforts of the Tunisian authorities to hold elections as soon as possible and hope these elections are free and fair," he says.

comment from blogger
1549 Blogger Jillian C York, who writes about freedom of expression and the Arab world, says talk of a Twitter uprising is overblown: this is a human revolution.

1542 Jane Kinninmont from the Economist Intelligence Unit tweets: "Fascinating that the Arab world's first popular revolution in 50 years was not carried out by Islamists."

1538 The BBC's David Chazan, in Paris, says France has quietly distanced itself from Tunisia, its former ally. The French government is concerned about its international image. Sources close to the foreign ministry say it also wanted to avoid antagonising the one million Tunisians living in France, many of whom had opposed the Ben Ali government.

1520 President Ben Ali was only the second leader Tunisia has had since gaining independence in 1956. The BBC has a full profile of the now-former leader here.

1510 Hundreds of foreign tourists have been caught up in the events in Tunisia - tour operators have laid on special flights to get them home. The UK Foreign Office is advising against all non-essential travel to the country and telling Britons to leave "unless you have a pressing need to remain".

1459 Afef Abrougui, a protester in a suburb of Tunis, told the BBC she had known only one president her whole life, but that she was hopeful for the future. "Tunisians have acquired political awareness and there's no going back!"

1451 Arbi, who works in a hotel in the coastal town of Gammarth, said the Tunisian people have "shown that they want liberty," but that there will be a difficult path ahead. "Europe has to help us now. We're not used to democracy in the Arab world. It will be a step-by-step process," he told AFP.

1440 On Twitter, Tunisian blogger Majdi Calboussi writes: "I'll keep relaying information bit by bit. No one will silence me today! No, I'm not going to bow my head!"

1436 Around 100 people joined a rally outside the Tunisian embassy in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Engineer Sarri Zuwaytar said: "We think that what is happening in Tunis is a lesson for all oppressive regimes and all corrupt regimes in the Arab world, and we want them to learn a lesson from what is going on."

1424 Speaker of parliament Foued Mebazaa has been sworn in as interim president. He says he has authorised negotiations to begin on the formation of a national unity government.

1419 The African Union has condemned "the excessive use of force against the demonstrators, resulting in loss of life". It appeals to "political stakeholders and the Tunisian people to work together", and it calls for "free, open and democratic elections".

1357 The AFP news agency says its reporters in Tunis saw soldiers and plainclothes security personnel dragging dozens of suspected looters out of their cars at gunpoint and taking them away in trucks.

Supermarket ransacked in Bizerte, Tunisia (15 January 2011)

comment from blogger
1350 On the Mideast Channel blog of Foreign Policy magazine, political science professor Nathan J Brown writes: "Today in Tunisia the constitution provides the only framework for the interim regime and the opposition to negotiate."

1343 On Twitter, Istanbul-based public opinion research consultant CEQuick comments: "Love democratic transitions, but having just returned from Ukraine, hope Tunisians have a plan for who/what's next."

1330 On Twitter, MW_A writes: "Who would have thought it, Tunisia's had more presidents in 23 hours than in the preceding 23 years."

1313 France says it has taken action to block "suspicious movements" of Tunisian assets. A statement from President Sarkozy's office also calls on Tunisia to hold free elections as soon as possible.

comment from blogger
1256 Tunisian blogger Alyssa, writing on the Nawaat collective blog, says: "The Tunisian people have given a lesson to the whole world, and to those oppressed in the Arab world in particular: expect nothing from anyone else and everything from yourself, and overcome the fear that paralyses your will and your energy."

1252 Journalist Andrej Matisak tweets: "Hard to say which debate is more passionate. Either what current events in Tunisia mean or how much Twitter, Facebook, Wikileaks were involved."

The BBC's Aidan Lewis has been looking at the role of social media in the unrest.

1250 Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi tells Tunisian state TV: "Our main priority now is to end this state of Chaos and stop all the looting and attacking of public and private properties... We need reform in every aspect: we need political, economic and social reform. The military have now been deployed across the country they were instructed to maintain order and are being reinforced by the national guard. Calm is returning gradually."

1246 Dr Aissaoui at Fattouma Bourguiba Hospital in Monastir confirms to the BBC that they have received 42 bodies from the prison fire in the city. They are all apparently victims of burns, some extreme.

1235 People in Tunisia have been telling the BBC about the situation in the capital. Accountant Hamdi Kriaa took part in the protests and says the situation now is critical.

1221 Retired Tunisian ambassador Ahmed Ounaies tells BBC News: "The losers are strong people, are big people. They have networks. They have means to damage the present situation. And those losers - either among the ruling party or among some sections of the police - are sending some militia for destroying some properties, for looting, for aggressing (sic) people after curfew."

1217 Opposition politician Ahmed Najib Al-Shabi tells BBC Arabic TV: "I respect (Prime Minister) Ghannouchi: he is a good man and a good economist... The problem is that when Mr Ghannouchi, who represents the regime, goes on TV to announce that he is head of state, that sends a negative message to the people of Tunisia... It is a message that this regime will continue now people have expressed anger and I suspect that they will continue to express their anger today. The politicians need to come up with a solution acceptable to the Tunisian people."

1204 Reports are now coming in of a second prison break-out. Reuters now says dozens of prisoners have been killed in a prison break in the town of Mahdia. Meanwhile, a coroner has told AP that at least 42 people died in the prison fire in Monastir.

1140 Reports are coming in of a prison fire in the resort town of Monastir. "I can see tens of dead and tens of prisoners who have escaped. The whole prison is on fire, the furniture, mattresses, everything," local resident Shokri Chouchan told Reuters. Reuters says it received similar accounts from two other eyewitnesses.

1127 There are reports of renewed looting around the capital. Soldiers intervened to try to stop looters from sacking a supermarket in Ariana, 30km (20 miles) north of Tunis, the AP news agency says. A helicopter circled low over the capital, and gunfire was heard. An AP photographer also sent images of a supermarket in Bizerte, 50km (30 miles) northwest of Tunis.
Magdi Abdelhadi

Demonstrators in Tunis, 14 January 2011

1118 The BBC's Wyre Davies, in central Tunis, says the atmosphere is "incredibly tense". Hundreds of police and soldiers are on the streets, he says, and tanks are protecting all the main ministries. "It's very difficult to see who's in control. It's difficult to see when and if the political reforms the protesters have been calling for will ever happen. The military is very much part of the political history of this country and will have a big say in what happens next."

1108 There has been little official reaction from Arab governments, but the Arab League has now released a statement. It calls "for all political forces, representatives of Tunisian society and officials to stand together and unite to maintain the achievements of the Tunisian people and realise national peace." It appeals for calm and urges Tunisians to reach a "national consensus on ways to bring the country out of this crisis in a way that guarantees respect for the will of the Tunisian people".

1053 In a report for BBC Radio 4's Today programme. Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen considers whether events in Tunisia could have the same ripple effect as the strike by the Solidarity union in Poland in 1980. That set off a chain of events which culminated in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in Europe in 1989. Could Tunis be the Arab world's Gdansk?

1045 Tunisian state TV announces that the Speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, as the interim president. Mr Ben Ali has left power for good, says the constitutional council. Presidential elections must take place within 60 days.

1035 The main avenue in Tunis has been sealed off by security forces. There were reports of continuing disturbances overnight, including the looting of a supermarket on the outskirts of Tunis.

Comment: Have Your Say
Facebook: BBC News
Twitter: HYS on Twitter
Text photos: +44 7725 100100
The BBC is not responsible for external sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2019 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific