Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia

January 16, 2011

Tunisia’s Constitutional Council has announced that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country on Friday and arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia early on Saturday morning, has been officially removed from office and has appointed the speaker of parliament as the interim president.

On Saturday, the Constitutional Council declared that the head of state had “definitively” left power and appointed Foued Mebezza acting president under the constitution in a communique published by the official news agency TAP.
The council made its ruling at the request of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi.
Responding to Tunisians’ mounting demands for him to step down, Ben Ali fled the country late on Friday in a dramatic end to his 23 years in power.
Saudi Arabia welcomed Ben Ali and his family on Saturday, a day after they fled a mass uprising in their country.
A statement issued by the Saudi monarchy said the decision to welcome Ben Ali was based on appreciation of the “exceptional circumstances” in Tunisia.
“Out of concern for the exceptional circumstances facing the brotherly Tunisian people and in support of the security and stability of their country… the Saudi government has welcomed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family to the kingdom,” the statement said.
Also on Saturday, all of Tunisia’s airports and the country’s airspace were reopened. “Tunisian airspace and national airports are open to air traffic,” the Tunisian authorities said in a statement quoted by TAP.
--Unwelcome in France
After stepping down, Ben Ali boarded a plane with his family and left the country, amid widespread rumors about where he was travelling to.
Sources speculated they were flying to Malta, Libya, France, or elsewhere. Eventually, it appeared Ben Ali’s plane had been en route to Paris. But French media reported that President Nicolas Sarkozy had rejected a request to allow his plane to land in Paris.
Members of Ben Ali’s family, reportedly including some of his in-laws, were arrested as they tried to leave the country.
The unrest in the country began on December 17, after a 26-year-old unemployed graduate set himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide. Mohammed Bousazizi’s act of desperation increased the public’s frustration over rising inflation and unemployment and sparked a wave of demonstrations across the country.
Dozens of people have died in recent weeks as unrest swept across the country and security forces cracked down on demonstrations over unemployment, food price rises, and corruption.