The Tunisia Constitutional Council on Saturday officially announced that President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [official website] has permanetly left the office of the president. The council, the country's highest legal authority on constitutional issues, declared that the leader of the lower house of parliament, Foued Mebezza, will assume power [AFP report] until elections are held in two months. The council made its ruling at the request of Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi [Reuters profile] and based its ruling on article 57 of the constitution, declaring a "definitive" vacation of the presidency. Before flying out of Tunis to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali signed a decree granting interim presidential powers to Ghannouchi, attempting to leave open the possibility of returning to office. Mebezza took the oath of office [Al Jazeera report] on Saturday and according to the council he should organize new presidential elections within 60 days.
On Friday, Ben Ali declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] amid nationwide protests, banning public gatherings and allowing police to fire on anyone refusing to obey orders. The declaration came a day after Ben Ali promised to cut prices [CNN report] on basic food supplies and order security forces not to use live ammunition except in cases of self-defense, as an attempt to end the protests. The protests were largely against Ben Ali and his family, who controlled numerous sectors of the economy and face accusations of corruption. Efforts to end the protests failed and within hours of the announcement Ben Ali had fled the country [BBC report] after 23 years in office, leaving Ghannouchi to assume power as interim president. In an announcement on state television [video, in Arabic], Ghannouchi cited Chapter 56 of the Tunisian Constitution [text], allowing the president to delegate his powers to the prime minister. He went on to assert that the government would adhere to the rule of law and that the announced reforms would still be implemented.