Tunisia is going through a lot of violence since its longtime ruler, Zine Abidine Ben Ali, was forced out of his country by mass protests.
Looting and deadly prison riots have erupted throughout the country and armed militias have taken to the streets frightening the population.
In the meantime, Tunisia’s new leadership is trying to bring order and form a coalition government.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after being in power since 1987.
Many residents, running out of bread, milk and petrol, have decided to arm themselves and barricade their homes, and some are forming local groups to defend their own neighbourhoods, said Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, the capital.
Three different armed groups appear to be attempting to assert power : Police, security forces from the interior ministry, and irregular militias allied with Ben Ali’s former regime.
Among Tunisia’s population of roughly 10 million people, 250,000 are in the police force.
“People are telling us right now they trust the army far more than they do the police,” Moshiri said.
New president sworn in
A staff member of a military hospital in Tunis told the AFP news agency that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Ben Ali’s wife, died.
Influential businessman, Trabelsi became more widely known after being mentioned in a US diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks that said he was reported to have stolen a yacht belonging to the chairman of the powerful French financial firm Lazard.
Salim Shayboub, Ben Ali’s son-in-law, also reportedly has been arrested.
On Friday Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia and his prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, said on state television that he had taken power in accordance with the constitution.
On Saturday, Fouad Mebezaa, the speaker of parliament, was sworn in as the country’s new president.
He promised to create a unity government that could include the long-ignored opposition.
Looters used the political instability to empty shops and torch the main train station in the country’s capital and soldiers traded fire with unidentified armed men in front of the interior ministry.
A state of emergency was in force on Saturday, with troops patrolling the capital.
According to Reuters news agency, squads of men in civilian clothes were driving through Tunis at high speed, shooting randomly at buildings and people.
Dozens of suspected looters were dragged out of their cars and gunpoint and taken away in lorries by soldiers and plainclothes security personnel, reported the AFP news agency.
“The army is all over the place in Tunis, they are trying to check cars and control people going by,” said Youssef Gaigi, a blogger and activist based in Tunisia.
Some rioters appeared to be targeting businesses owned by members of Ben Ali’s family. In Tunis, they torched a branch of the Zeitouna bank founded by Ben Ali’s son-in-law. Vehicles made by Kia, Fiat and Porsche, carmakers distributed in Tunisia by members of the ruling family, were also destroyed.
Phone calls from residents on the capital’s outskirts, describing attacks by knife-wielding assailants, were broadcasted on public television station TV7.
Tunisians have organised themselves in order to protect their neighbourhoods, Amine Ghali, a democracy advocate in Tunisia, told Al Jazeera (photo, from aljazeera.net).
“There is a serious security issue, but people are getting organised. They are standing in front of their neighbourhoods, forming neighbourhood committees … they are trying to be as calm as possible and trying to help the military,” he said.
Barricades were set up by residents of some neighbourhoods in the capital, along with overnight patrols to deter rioters, just as a broadcast on Tunisian television had urged citizens to do.
Dozens of men and boys were taking turns on patrol armed with baseball bats and clubs in El Menzah neighbourhood.
“This isn’t good at all. I’m very afraid for the kids and myself,” said Lilia Ben Romdhan, a mother of three in outer Tunis.
Ben Ali’s work
An unnamed military source told Reuters that “Ben Ali’s security is behind what is happening”, spreading fears that some of the violence is being carried out by armed factions allied to the president.
Gaigi, who had been part of the protests that brought down Ben Ali, indicated that the army’s presence was required because the police force had broken down.
“Several militias, which are actually doing some of the looting are part of the ministry of the interior, or police members, and they are co-ordinated by heads of police and intelligence in Tunisia,” he said.
“We heard the army have captured some of these people but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
According to reports, top Ben Ali adviser and the former head of the president’s security General Ali Seryati have been captured by civilians.
On Mohamed V Avenue in the centre of Tunis, workers were taking down Ben Ali’s portrait outside of the headquarters of his RCD party, in order to show that his rule was over.
In the same time, a fire killed 42 people on Saturday at a prison in the Mediterranean coastal resort of Monastir, coroner Tarek Mghirbi told The Associated Press news agency.
In Mahdia, further down the coast, a local official said inmates set fire to their mattresses in protest and that five inmates were killed when soldiers opened fire.
Breakouts were reported at three other prisons.
According to a report from The Associated Press news agency an official at one facility has let 1,000 inmates escape following protests at the prison.
After the unrest, thousands of tourists have been evacuated from Tunisia.