Reports say Monastir jail is swept by fire as speaker of parliament is announced as third leader in 24 hours
- Amy Fallon
Coroner Tarek Mghirbi said at least 42 people had died in the fire, AP reported.
One witness told Reuters: “The whole prison is on fire, the furniture, mattresses, everything.”
Reports of the fire came amid confusion over who is now running the country.
The prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, said last night that he was taking over as the temporary ruler because Ben Ali was temporarily unable to fulfil his duties.
But the Constitutional Council announced that by law the speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, should be the interim president, Tunisian television reported today.
“The Constitutional Council announces that the post of president is definitively vacant so we should refer to article 57 of the constitution, which states that the speaker of parliament occupies the post of president temporarily and calls for elections within a period of between 45 and 60 days,” its president, Fathi Abd Ennather, said.
There has been no response from Mebazaa.
Ghannouchi was today planning to meet opposition parties in an attempt to form a coalition as hundreds of soldiers patrolled streets in the capital, Tunis.
Ben Ali yesterday declared a state of emergency after saying he would dismiss his government and call new elections within six months.
Thousands of angry demonstrators marched through Tunis, demanding his resignation and he eventually flew out of the country, taking refuge in Saudi Arabia.
Early today rioters burned the main train station in Tunis to the ground. Soldiers intervened to stop looters at a huge supermarket in Ariana, 20 miles north of the capital, as a helicopter hovered. Gunfire could be heard.
Meanwhile in France, the former ruler of the North African country, expatriates celebrated.
About 200 people, some wearing Tunisian flags as capes, huddled together on the Place des Invalides in Paris, after being directed away from the nearby Tunisian embassy.
Around 1,000 British expatriates are believed to be living in Tunisia.
Up to 200 travellers there have registered with the “Locate” page of the Foreign Office website.