Tunisia President Hands Power to Prime Minister Before Leaving Country

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali handed power to Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi and left for Malta after his country was placed under a state of emergency following demonstrations aimed at forcing him to quit.

Ghannouchi announced the change on state television and said he was assuming presidential duties. He said Ben Ali was traveling under Libyan protection.

Almost a month of protests culminated today in clashes in the capital, Tunis, where thousands of demonstrators gathered and some tried to storm the Interior Ministry.

The army is taking control of security nationwide from the police, state television said. Public gatherings of more than three people are banned and security forces are authorized to shoot anyone who violates the order.

Protests over unemployment, forecast at 13.2 percent this year, began in central Tunisia and escalated into a nationwide condemnation of government repression and corruption.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jihen Laghmari in Tunis at jlaghmari@bloomberg.net; Mahmoud Kassem in Cairo at mkassem1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Ben Holland at bholland1@bloomberg.net.

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