[JURIST] Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [official website] declared a state of emergency Friday 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 mostly against Ben Ali and his family, who controlled numerous sectors of the economy and are accused of corruption. Efforts to end the protests failed, however, and within hours of the announcement, Ben Ali had fled the country [BBC report] after 23 years in office, leaving Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi [Reuters profile] 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.
In January, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] urged the Tunisian government to investigate the deaths of public protesters and called on government security forces to admit use of excessive force against them [JURIST report]. Pillay expressed her “concern” over the violence and killings and called for a “transparent, credible and independent” investigation into the oppression of demonstrators. She encouraged the government to find those officials responsible for the violence stating, “If there is evidence that members of the security forces have used excessive force, or conducted extra-judicial killings, they must be arrested, tried and – if found guilty of offences – punished according to the law. It is essential that justice is done, and is seen to be done.” Pillay also urged Tunisian officials to work towards adopting better policies to help alleviate the economic strife of its civilians and to “lift severe limitations on freedoms of assembly, opinion and expression, as well as association.”