Social Media Plays Role in Toppling Tunisian President


BBC correspondent Wyre Davies, reporting from Tunis, said, "It's been quite a remarkable 24 hours."

"This is a country where the government has had incredibly tight controls on the Internet, on the free press," he said. "Things like Twitter, Facebook, all of these other new norms were incredibly powerful."

Some of the most powerful footage of the riots and protests was "raw footage on shaky mobile phones and then disseminated through the Internet," Davies said. "That was an incredibly powerful way for people to get their message across."

Gaigi said he feels "very powerful today" because he and his "fellow Tunisians overthrew a government that every single foreign nation supported."

President Obama released a statement condemning the use of violence against citizens voicing their opinions in Tunisia.

"I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people. The United States stands with the entire international community in bearing witness to this brave and determined struggle for the universal rights we must all uphold, and we will long remember the images of the Tunisian people seeking to make their voices heard," the statement said.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to Arab leaders from around the region, urging them to reform and engage with their populations. She warned that if leaders do not give youth in their populations a voice in society, others will. She said the region was at "a critical moment," creating "a test of leadership for all of us."

Thousands Attend Funeral for Man Whose Suicide Sparked Unrest

"If leaders don't offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum," Clinton said during a forum in Doha, Qatar Thursday. "Extremist elements, terrorist groups, and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there, appealing for allegiance and competing for influence."

Reading a statement on television, Tunisia's prime minister Ghannouchi announced he would take over the position of president as Ben Ali "cannot practice his authorities."

"I call upon all people of Tunisia of different backgrounds to be patriotic and to be united for the sake of our beloved country," he said.

Ben Ali, 74, took power in Tunisia after a bloodless coup in 1987. In an attempt to hold onto power, the president declared a state of emergency, dissolved the government and promised new elections. State media reports he fled to Malta, and that members of his family are in custody.

"It's an incredible situation if you think that just 24 hours ago this was a state with a very strong president," Davies said. "So great, so relentless has been the sway of opposition against this authoritarian regime, that [Ben Ali's] generals and his political allies told him he had to go."

The government reports at least 23 people have been killed in the rioting, but opposition members said the death toll could be triple that. On Friday, Air France, one of the main airlines serving the country, said it suspended flights to Tunisia following the closure of its airspace.

On Wednesday, more than 5,000 people reportedly participated in the funeral of the young man whose self-immolation is credited with setting off the violent protests. Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on Dec. 17 after police confiscated the produce he sold without a permit, an act that sparked the unrest in the popular Mediterranean tourist destination.

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