Tunisia interim president sworn in after riots

Tunisia's capital remained under lockdown Saturday morning, a day after a popular rebellion forced the president to flee the country.

President flees to Saudi Arabia

Tunisia has a new interim president after 24 hours of political uncertainty and a month of violent street protests that forced his predecessor to flee the country.

The speaker of the Tunisia's parliament, Fouad Mebazza, was sworn in Saturday after a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which called for new elections in 60 days.

Tunisians living in Belgium shout slogans while holding a Tunisian flag during a protest in Brussels on Saturday. ((Thierry Roge/Reuters))

Mebazza said on state television that he has asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to form "a national unity government in the country's best interests."

Tunisia's capital remained under a state of emergency after President Zine El Albedeen Ben Ali, 74, and some members of his family fled the former French colony for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Friday night.

For more than 23 years, Ben Ali presided over a repressive regime that many said was corrupt and served only the interests of a small elite ruling class. He relied heavily on the police to quash opposition.

Frustration with Ben Ali's regime was exacerbated recently by rising food and fuel prices and high unemployment. 

A supermarket burns after it was looted in Bizerte, Tunisia, on Saturday. ((Hassene Dridi/Associated Press) )

Unrest continued even after the president's departure for Saudi Arabia. On Saturday morning, sporadic gunfire could be heard in Tunis and smoke billowed over a giant supermarket outside the capital as looters torched and emptied it. The army fired warning shots to scare them away.

A helicopter circled low over the city, apparently acting as a spotter for fires or pillaging. Army roadblocks stopped access to Bourguiba Avenue, Tunis's main thoroughfare.

Security forces were on every corner, trying to maintain order, but some people were going about their normal business.

Disturbances at 2 prisons

Fire swept though a prison in the Tunisian resort town of Monastir as inmates reportedly tried to stage a mass breakout. A local coroner said at least 42 people died.

At another prison in the coastal city of Mahdia, five people were reported killed in clashes with guards. A prison official said the director there freed about 1,000 inmates following the uprising.

Looting hit the suburbs of Tunis, and the city's central train station was burned to the ground early Saturday. People in the capital reported drive-by shootings.

In a statement, French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office called for free elections in Tunisia as soon as possible.

A spokesman for the French government, François Baroin, said some members of Ben Ali's family who are staying in France are "not welcome to stay" in the country and will be leaving. Baroin did not specify which family members are currently in France.

With files from The Associated Press