, TUNIS, Jan 14 – Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali quit after 23 years in power on Friday and fled the country, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced, saying he had taken over in the interim.
Ghannouchi called on Tunisians to unite after weeks of protests and said he would respect the constitution.
"I call on Tunisians of all political persuasions and from all regions to demonstrate patriotism and unity," he said solemnly on state television.
Ben Ali fled amid mounting demands for him to step down despite announcing late Thursday that he would not seek another term after 2014.
It was not clear where he was headed.
Thousands of people demonstrated across Tunisia Friday, demanding Ben Ali step aside.
Tunisia\’s main opposition parties, both legal and banned, also called for him to quit in favour of an interim government.
"We demand that Ben Ali go and a provisional government be set up charged with organising free elections in six months," the parties said in a joint declaration read out at a news conference in Paris.
The parties included the PDP, which is authorised in Tunisia but has no seats in parliament, and the PCOT communist workers\’ party, which also said on Friday that its arrested leader Hamma Hammami had been released.
In a bid to quell an unprecedented wave of deadly political unrest, Ben Ali on Thursday promised in a national address that he would not seek another term in office in 2014 and vowed to liberalise Tunisia\’s political system and media.
He also said he had ordered police not to fire live rounds at demonstrators, after weeks of clashes in which at least 66 people are said to have been killed.
But his declaration did not calm the protests and Ben Ali on Friday sacked the government, called early elections in six months and declared a state of national emergency.