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article imageReports: Tunisian President Ben Ali has fled the country

By Michael Cosgrove     Jan 14, 2011 in Politics
Tunisian President Ben Ali has fled the country amid chaotic scenes of rioting in the capital Tunis. Other reports say that the international airport at Tunis and Tunisian airspace have been closed. An interim government has been formed.
The BBC reported sources close to the Tunisian government as saying this afternoon that President Ben Ali has fled Tunisia. Those reports have been confirmed.
The Guardian quoted Italian news sources which said that Ben Ali had arrived in Malta "under Libyan protection". Other reports say he is in Paris with government spokesmen but a recent Reuters article stated "French President Nicolas Sarkozy has refused to give Tunisia's ex-President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali permission to enter France."
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi has taken over as interim president, says the BBC.
Air France has temporarily suspended flights into and out of Tunisia following the airport's clusure, which was said to have been carried out by the army amid rumors of a coup d'état. The army is also said to be in control of the country.
The BBC also reports that members of Tunisian security forces have arrested members of the Trabelsi family, which is the extended family of Ban Ai's second wife, Leila Trabelsi.
Mahmoud Ben Romdhane of the opposition Renewal Movement has informed the BBC that "At this moment, according to the latest information that I have, the president is no longer in power and a coup has happened. If this information is true, the answer is clear. He will no longer have the power to decide to accept or refuse [the demands for him to step down]."
The news came after a month of rioting in Tunisia which has left dozens of people dead and many injured. The riots were caused by high prices - notably those of food - and government corruption.
A Reuters photographer told his news agency he saw "people looting two big supermarkets in the Tunis suburb of Enkhilet, about 10 km (6 miles) from the capital. He said they had set fire to the local police station."
One-hour update from The Guardian - Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said in a televised speech that he had taken over from Ben Ali on an interim basis. The opposition leader calls today's events a "regime change."
Update 21:30 Paris time - French daily Le Figaro reports that French police are preparing for the arrival of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who is expected to arrive during the evening.
Update - Le Figaro reports that French government sources have said France does "not wish" to see Ben Ali's plane land in France. He is now said to be looking for somewhere to land in a Gulf or Middle-Eastern country.
Last update on this article - Ben Ali's plane is said to have landed and refueled in Cagliari in Sardinia before taking off for an as-yet unknown destination.
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