Tunisian President Ben Ali Flees His Country

Just a day after a conciliatory speech that attempted to quell a growing revolt, the president of Tunisia is reportedly ousted from power. 

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French President Sarkozy with Tunisia's Ben Ali

Tunisia's President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali is reported to have stepped down from power and fled his country amid the worst unrest in decades. Several European newspapers reported that Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi  announced he had taken over as interim president.

Ben Ali was reported to have boarded a flight Friday evening out of the North African country he had ruled for 23 years. A state of emergency was declared 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 that Ben Ali resign. The exact death toll is not clear. The president had earlier dismissed his government and called for early elections, but it was apparently too little, too late.

Ben Ali's departure will give cold comfort to his fellow Middle East despots -- and his Western allies. Tunisia has long projected an image as a moderate country with a burgeoning "economic miracle." In fact, Ben Ali ruled with an iron hand at home, enriched his family and friends and charmed foreign leaders. Even as the death toll mounted, officials in France and the U.S. made muted remarks, urging calm. But neither Ben Ali's gestures nor the assurances of allies could assuage long-pent-up anger over joblessness and corruption.

Read more at the Washington Post.