Tunisians bask in rare moment of liberty

Fri Jan 14, 2011 1:01am GMT

* Celebrations after president announces will stand down

* Some media restrictions lifted immediately

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Tunisians emerged from their homes into what seemed a different country after watching their president set a date for leaving office on Thursday.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who has led Tunisia for more than 23 years, bowed to pressure from weeks of unrest and announced on television he would step down in 2014, ordered police to stop shooting protesters and promised a free media.

Tunisians, who have chafed at the restrictions on civil freedoms imposed by his administration, waved flags, danced, honked car horns and sang the national anthem.

"We did not expect this speech," said one man, Mohamed Ali, in the Lafayette area of the capital where hours earlier police shot at protesters. "The most important thing is liberty, liberty, liberty."

Sonia Ayari, another person celebrating in the street, said: "We salute Ben Ali's courage, even if it came late."   Continued...

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