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Tunisia PM slams looting as power shifts hands

Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi this morning denounced the widespread looting that hit the country after president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country a day earlier.

"It is unacceptable that the looting continues," Ghannouchi said in an interview Saturday morning on Al-Jazeera television, speaking in his capacity as acting president.

Shortly afterwards, Tunisia's Constitutional Court, at the prime minister's request, ruled that the speaker of parliament, Fouad Mebazaa, should assume the interim presidency.

"We are making every effort to restore order throughout the country," Ghannouchi said, while claiming that "certain (unspecified) parties" had "infiltrated" street demonstrations.

A state of emergency was declared in Tunisia yesterday, but this did not prevent another night of looting. Police sealed off the heart of the capital, Tunis, to prevent any gatherings.

Ghannouchi promised to work with the opposition to examine the country's constitutional change and to organise elections.

"On Saturday I will consult all political parties on the appropriate means to overcome the problem" posed by the transition, he said.

He said Ben Ali's departure was "final" and that "other arrangements will be made," without giving details.

Ben Ali signed over interim presidential powers to Ghannouchi on Friday before flying out of the country.

However, political opponents and lawyers said Ghannouchi's mandate was unconstitutional and that Mebazaa should assume control of the country.

"The legal problems are not as important as saving the country according to the will of the people," Ghannouchi said on Al-Jazeera, stressing that there will be elections soon.

He also said Tunisian dissidents living abroad could now return home.

"They can come whenever they want. It's their country," he said in response to a question about them.

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