Tunis: Tunisia has sworn in a new interim president and he has asked the prime minister to form a unity government.
Longtime ruler President Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali fled the country Friday for Saudi Arabia following a popular uprising and deadly riots.
Fouad Mebazaa, the former president of the lower house of parliament, was sworn in as chief of state on Saturday. He says he asked the premier to form a "national unity government in the country's best interests."
Mebazaa said in his first televised address that all political parties including the opposition will be consulted "without exception nor exclusion."
The army locked down central Tunis to prevent further demos and AFP reporters saw soldiers and plainclothes security personnel dragging dozens of suspected looters out of their cars at gunpoint and taking them away in trucks.
Crackdown against looters
The crackdown followed a night of looting in Tunis and its suburbs. Several stolen cars were seen smashed up and abandoned in the streets and some shops and luxury homes had been pillaged and burnt out, with the violence appearing to target in particular the property of Bin Ali’s family.
Prime Minister Mohammad Ghannouchi denounced the looting and the country's Constitutional Council ruled that the speaker of parliament, Mebazaa, a close ally of Bin Ali, should assume the interim presidency.
The council declared the head of state had "definitively" left power and declared that elections should be held within a maximum of 60 days.
International powers including Europe and the United States urged calm in Tunisia and called for a democratic process in the north African state following events that Tunisian Internet users dubbed the "Jasmine Revolution".
US President Barack Obama earlier hailed the "courage" and "dignity" of Tunisian protesters and called for "free and fair elections".
Tourist resorts on edge
Some of the picturesque resort towns on Tunisia’s Mediterranean coastline were on edge Saturday after looting and chaos that followed the ouster of Bin Ali.
Residents said they were afraid the chaos could put off foreign tourists – a vital source of revenue for many in the area.
"It's terrible what is happening. Utter chaos," said one man, who declined to be named, as he walked past the wreck of a car apparently smashed up by looters in the wealthy and historic town of Carthage near the capital Tunis.
Several streets of Carthage, where Tunisia's power elite brushes shoulders with foreign tourists, were blocked by security forces and around 20 soldiers could be seen outside the nearby entrance to the presidential palace.
A supermarket run by French chain Monoprix lay looted and burnt-out, with local residents saying that some 40 youths riding stolen cars had attacked the shop overnight and that police did not respond to calls to intervene.
"After 23 years the people's rage just exploded," said Farhat Hafayedh, 56, a retired factory worker living nearby who had come to look at the damage. "The looting was targeted. It's all property of the ex-president," he said.
The devastation in and around Tunis appeared limited to only certain luxury homes and shopping centres but AFP reporters also saw more common scenes of looting, such as at a flat-screen television store in the city centre.
"This is like the French Revolution.... It's the end of an era. I'm hoping there is real change. We can't continue like this," said Hafayedh. A local university lecturer who witnessed the looting of the Monoprix store said: "I was scared and frustrated because I couldn't do anything."
Mariam, a graduate in management working as a concierge at a hotel, said: "Everyone's afraid for their family now." She was critical of speaker of parliament Foued Mebazaa - the man sworn in on Saturday as Bin Ali's interim successor. "He's bourgeois, he's not from the people. The people won’t accept him."
France blocks suspicious Tunisian asset moves
France called on Saturday for free elections as soon as possible in Tunisia and said it had taken steps to block suspicious movements of Tunisian assets in France.
"France has taken the necessary steps to ensure suspicious financial movements concerning Tunisian assets in France are blocked administratively," President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said in a statement.
"France is prepared to meet any request for help to ensure the democratic process takes place in indisputable fashion," said the statement, issued after Sarkozy met several key ministers at his offices for talks on Tunisia.
Palestinians welcome uprising
The Palestinians on Saturday hailed the uprising in Tunisia, saying the north African country's people were an inspiration to the rest of the Arab world.
In a carefully worded statement, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, an umbrella group of Palestinian factions, praised the "the unparalleled courage of the Tunisian people and their heroic sacrifices to achieve their demands."
The PLO, which had close ties with ousted Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali, did not mention the deposed leader in the statement, instead choosing to emphasise the close ties between the Palestinians and the Tunisian people.
Tunisia was home to the PLO headquarters after the Palestinians were driven out of Lebanon in 1982 until the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994.
"The Palestinian people, who have a debt of gratitude to the Tunisian people who embraced the Palestinian revolution and its leadership at a time when a lot of places wouldn't, stresses the deep brotherly link that connects our people with the great Tunisian people," the statement said.
In the West Bank town of Ramallah, some 50 Palestinians demonstrated outside the Tunisian embassy.
"I came here today in solidarity with the Tunisian people," said Ali Zeidan, who was carrying a picture of Mohammad Bouazizi, the Tunisian who sparked the riots when he set himself on fire after police prevented him from selling fruit and vegetables to make a living. "He paid with his life for this change," said Zeidan.
Revolution will spread: Jordan union
Shouting "Tunisia’s revolution will spread," about 50 Jordanian trade unionists held a sit-in on Saturday outside the Tunisian embassy in Amman, which was closed, an AFP reporter witnessed.
Several police officers penned them in. Among other slogans chanted were "Propagate intifada (uprising)," "The Tunisian Revolution will spread" and "Our government has left us penniless."
Prime Minister Samir Rifai’s resignation has been a recurring demand of union-led protests at soaring commodity prices, unemployment and poverty. Around 8,000 people have taken part in demonstrations across the kingdom.
Samed, a passer-by, expressed his joy by distributing chocolates "because this is the first Arab dictator to fall after Saddam Hussain," the Iraqi president ousted by US-led forces.
The unionists also carried Algerian flags because, as one of them stated, "the first spark is lit." Algeria is still cleaning up after violent riots over soaring food prices left five dead, hundreds wounded and more than 1,000 in jail. The government pledged on Monday to drop prices to ease tensions.