Violence in Tunisia as Protesters Demand President's Ouster

As I wrote yesterday, Tunisians have taken to the streets all over their country in protests that have evolved from a complaint about unemployment and food prices to a call for the ouster of longtime dictator Ben Ali. The President gave a conciliatory speech yesterday acknowledging the demands of the protestors and pledging to leave office in 2014, and while many Tunisians rejoiced initially, thousands marched in the capital city today to demand Ben Ali's resignation. What followed was captured in the Twitter feed of Angelique Chrisafis (@achrisafis), the Guardian's Paris correspondent, who is in Tunis. These tweets came in the past four hours:

- Vast crowds outside Interior Ministry shouting "Ben Ali out!" and "End the dictator's speeches".

- Pro-regime newspapers torn up by protestors. "Will we be able to see Le Monde on the stands tomorrow?" one asks #Tunisia

- Demo peaceful so far apart from minor skuffles with secret police. The middle-class crowd are now urging the police to join them#Tunisia

- Ben Ali, his second wife Leila, and the business empire his family has amassed are the main targets of protestors' anger #Tunisia

- Chaos here. Police attacking peaceful crowd outside Interior Ministry and beating them with clubs and truncheons #jasminrevolt#sidibouzid

- People who have fled into side streets being cornered and soaked with teargas while secret police pick them off and beat them#jasminrevolt

- Running battles amid extreme violence from police. Protestors being chased onto rooftops. This is turniing very, very bad

- Gunshots are now ringing around us and in the other sidestreets around Interior Ministry #jasminrevolt #tunisia #sidibouzid\

What is already being called the "Jasmine Revolt," after the national flower of Tunisia, is threatening to turn into a full-fledged revolution. President Ben Ali has already dismissed the Parliament, and pledged to hold elections within the next six months, but despite that, and despite the violence described above, protestors are still in the streets, peacefully demanding the President's resignation.  

It's still very unclear where this will lead-- perhaps peacefully to a more democratic Tunisia, and perhaps to brutal violence.  For up-to-the-minute news, I'd recommend following the Guardian, or, better yet, tune in to Al Jazeera English, which is providing great coverage. Here is a clip of one of their recent updates:

UPDATE (1:58pm): Ben Ali has fled the country:

Tunisia's long-standing president has left the country amid violent protests and the prime minister has taken over control of the government from him.

"Since the president [Zine El Abidine Ben Ali] is temporarily unable to exercise his duties, it has been decided that the prime minister will exercise temporarily the [presidential] duties," Mohammed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister, said on state television.

Ghannouchi is now the interim president.

Maltese air traffic controllers have told Al Jazeera that Ben Ali is bound for Paris.