A tank rumbles past a portrait of former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on a street in Tunis yesterday. Violent anti-government protests drove Ben Ali from power on Friday after 23 years of rule

Tunisia's president has left power for good, the president of the country's Constitutional Court said yesterday, declaring that the leader of the lower house of parliament would assume power until elections are held in two months. It was the second time power has changed hands in Tunisia in less than 24 hours.

Massive street protests over corruption and unemployment forced President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on Friday night after 23 years of iron-fisted rule. Unrest continued yesterday as dozens of inmates were killed in a prison fire, looters emptied shops and torched the main train station and gunfire echoed through the capital.

Saudi King Abdullah's palace confirmed early yesterday that the ousted president and his family had landed in Saudi Arabia, saying the kingdom welcomed him with a wish for "peace and security to return to the people of Tunisia".

When Ben Ali left, prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi stepped in briefly. But Constitutional Council president Fethi Abdennadher said yesterday that Ben Ali had permanently vacated his position and MP Fouad Mebazaa had up to 60 days to organise elections.

Ben Ali's ousting was the key demand of a month of protests that have swept the country.

While the protests were mostly peaceful, after Ben Ali's departure rioters burned the main train station in the capital of Tunis and looted shops.

Tunisian airspace was still closed yesterday, a day after a state of emergency was declared. A helicopter circled low over the capital, apparently acting as a spotter for fires or pillaging. Gunfire was heard across the capital.

The government said at least 23 people have been killed in the riots, but opposition members put the death toll at more than three times that.