Embattled Tunisian president sacks government

Only hours after Ben Ali vowed on state television that he would stand down in 2014 and prices of basic foodstuffs would be cut, his prime minister announced a clear-out of government and elections in six months.

Authorities declared a state of emergency across the country as police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators in the heart of the capital where clashes broke out between security forces and protestors.

Emboldened by the administration's increasing admissions of fallibility, opponents of Ben Ali took to the streets in their thousands in the capital and several other towns, urging him to bring an immediate end to his 23-year rule.

In comments carried by the official TAP news agency, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi said Ben Ali had decided "to dismiss the government and call early elections in six months".

The statement said the decision had been made the day before, but there had been no mention of the government's dismissal in yesterday night's address although Ben Ali did take a swipe at his lieutenants for "deceit".

Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane also indicated that Ben Ali could appoint a national unity government, saying such an arrangement would be feasible and "totally normal" for the country.

But the apparent concessions by the 74-year-old president did little to stem the calls for change with the chant of "Ben Ali Out!" echoing at demonstrations across the country.
Protestors even descended on the interior ministry in Tunis, one of the symbols of Ben Ali's iron-fisted rule, where they openly chanted for the president's swift departure and paid tribute to the "blood of the martyrs".

Security forces surrounded the ministry and did not move against the growing group for several hours, but later fired volleys of tear gas that send the crowd running.

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