WORLD -- January 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM EDT
Tunisian President Steps Down Amid Protests
Updated 3:30 p.m. ET
Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali stepped down from office Friday, driven from power by angry demonstrators who had demanded he step down. His exact location is unconfirmed. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, an ally of Ben Ali, has assumed power.
Updated 12:50 p.m. ET
The Associated Press is reporting that Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi says he is assuming power in the country.
Update: 12:30 p.m. ET
Troops have surrounded the country's main international airport and airspace is closed, the BBC reports. There are reports on state television stations about an imminent announcement.
Demonstrators in Tunisia Call for President's Exit
Thousands of protesters converged on downtown Tunis, the capital of the North African country of Tunisia, calling on president President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to step down after occupying the office since 1987. The number of demonstrators is unprecedented during his term, which has brought accusations of human rights abuses.
President Ben Ali has declared a state of emergency in the country, shortly after announcing he'd dismiss the government and hold new legislative elections. He has not agreed to leave office himself.
On Thursday night, he delivered a speech in an attempt to quell the protests and to address the high unemployment and corruption that helped spur the riots, which have killed at least 23 people in recent weeks - a figure opposition groups estimate at three times that. He said he will step down in 2014.
On Friday, news agencies reported that police in riot gear used tear gas in an attempt to disperse the growing crowd outside of the country's interior ministry. There are also reports of gunshots. Security forces beat demonstrators with batons, and demonstrators were seen throwing rocks at the police.
Demonstrators shouts slogans in front the Interior ministry in Habib Bourguiba avenue in Tunis after Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's address to the nation on Jan. 14, 2011. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)
The unrest has effectively shut down the country's tourism industry, as the U.S., France and the UK have issued travel advisories. Tourism is a key industry in Tunisia. The State Department called the situation "spontaneous and unpredictable."
The protests were sparked when an unemployed man set himself on fire after police blocked him from selling vegetables without a permit. The man later died of his injuries. High unemployment and dissatisfaction with government are being blamed as key causes of the protests.