#header-inner img {margin: 0 auto !important; #header-inner {text-align: Center ;} Fiji Coupfourpointfive: 2011-01-16

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Protestors: WikiLeaks Fiji cable supports Waihopai spy base claim

WAIHOPAI: Authorities denied the odd-looking ball was a spy base but protestors say not so.

By Janika ter Ellen, TV3
Protestors claim the Waihopai spy base assists a US agenda and involves New Zealand in unjust wars. 

And the international whistleblowing site, WikiLeaks, has provided them extra ammunition. One cable released by the site in December revealed NZ spied on Fiji during the 2006 coup - and gave the information to the US.   

“It revealed the fact that NZ uses it as an opportunity to sit at the table with the big boys,” says protestor Murray Horton. 

"Why should we be collecting intelligence to serve American foreign policy through a system which is of very little use to New Zealand,” says the Green Party’s Keith Locke.

But today's demonstration wasn't unopposed, thanks largely to three activists' attack on the dome with a sickle in 2008 - causing over a million dollars worth of damage. 

Today marked Father Peter Murnane's first visit to the site since he and two others successfully avoided conviction for the attack. “We feel successful about showing NZ what the spy base does, and the evils with which it is connected.” 

They may be just 30-strong in a country of 4 million - but these activists say they won't give up until the Government shuts Waihopai down.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Big brother making a case to control the internet?

TRUTHBUSTERS: Rally to support Julian Assange who claims the sex charges are trumped up. Bottom: Bainimarama.

By Dev Nadkarni for the Indian Weekender
Nearly every major historical event has at least one popular conspiracy theory that fires the public imagination and lingers long enough to form the leitmotif of alternative lore, which manages to cast its telling shadow on some aspects of the generally accepted “official” record.

The assassinations of US presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, the “real” reasons for the sinking of the Titanic, the raft of UFO (unidentified flying object) sightings in the 1950s and 1960s, the moon walk of 1969, and nearer our times, the September 11, 2001 incident – all have the choicest conspiracy theories woven around them.

These theories have been preserved in hundreds of books and magazines – many of them bestsellers no matter how crackpot they may sound – dozens of films and television shows and of course countless YouTube videos and digital files on the internet.

The latest major event to spawn a juicy conspiracy theory is the WikiLeaks saga. Amid reports that catalogued the unfolding of the 250,000-document leak – more a torrent than a leak, really – and their publication by the media across the world, a convincing theory, as in the manner of almost all conspiracy theories, has surfaced.

There is a school of thought that believes that the whole WikiLeaks saga was a planned operation of a consortium of the big, bad, super secretive, completely opaque and ruthless, faceless intelligence organisations of the Western world.

A ploy to find the strongest possible justification to control the free flow of information in the world via the bugbear of all manner of secrets – the internet.

The argument here is that it would not have been possible for a disgruntled, lowly-paid soldier, now held in solitary confinement in a prison in Virginia, USA, to have had access to such a cornucopia of classified documents on such diverse matters at his station in the Middle East without help from higher officials who were responsible for the secrecy of the documents.

Like the 9/11 conspiracy theories or for that matter even those about the lunar landing and others, this theory too is sure to have its diehard believers and defenders.

The ingredients for a choice, spicily juicy recipe are all there: The internet has grown at the speed of light into an unbelievably big, amorphous beast.

In its wake it has dissolved political and geographical boundaries and is all but out of reach of brick and mortar jurisdictional authority, challenging every statute in every country’s ‘book of authority’ as it were.

Like nothing else in history, the internet has enabled the convergence of the flow of ideas, two-way communication, mass communication as in publishing, sound and visual broadcasting as well as commerce, besides much else in one single hand-held device, often independent of location.

The high barriers to the power afforded by the ownership and control over traditional media have not only been lowered but have been destroyed.

One does not need to have millions of dollars to become a broadcaster – any blogger will vouch for that.

Why, the man at the centre of the WikiLeaks saga, Julian Assange, is an acclaimed homeless individual with none of the trappings of a traditional media magnate or the halo of a celebrity editor.

Suddenly, the individual has been placed on an even keel with traditional big money, big power, big muscle authority.

It is undoubtedly a nightmare for everyone that has something to hide. And governments and politicians everywhere have the most to hide, no matter how much democracy, fair play and transparency they may profess.

Doublespeak is the stuff of politics and it is abundantly evident in the leaked documents.
In fact, few of the documents would take the informed citizen by surprise.

But journalists, commentators and citizens who follow events closely, all along suspected what has been released. For instance, Fiji had been saying all along that New Zealand and Australia were spying on it. That has now been confirmed.

Last year, I wrote a piece in a New Zealand newspaper that the US was worried that Pakistan’s nuclear devices could easily fall into the hands of Taliban terrorists who were lurking ever closer to the country’s nuclear installations.

The US officially denied this saying the Pentagon was in close touch with Pakistan’s chain of command and there was no question of a worry.

The leaks though tell the real story. The US was worried as hell. And still is – as it should be.
So there is every reason for the authority to worry about the burgeoning, completely individualised, hard-to-pin-down, on-the-fly power of the internet.

It has the potential to leave governments bereft of the clothes they wear, exposing them for all to see. There is a very good case, indeed, to clamp down on it in the name of national interest, sovereignty, security and peace.

Regulating the internet
Whether the conspiracy theorists are right or wrong in their contention that governments initiated the leaks to gain control of the internet does not really matter.

But their belief has a grain of truth and that is what matters – rather disturbingly: we are beginning to see early moves in the world’s governments towards toying with ideas about, yes, you guessed right, regulating the internet.

There have been media reports that the United Nations is actually considering a consortium of an inter-governmental working group “to harmonise global efforts by policymakers to regulate the internet”.

The meeting, which took place in New York days before Christmas, discussed the possibility of forming a global body consisting of government representatives to create standards for policing the internet.

And it clearly states that this is specifically in response to the WikiLeaks phenomenon. At first instance, the world appears divided on this. There is one group of countries that is openly eager and another appears to be more cautious. 

No prizes for matching the countries to their respective groups. Their reputation or the lack of it – for upholding liberty, equality and egalitarianism in both letter and spirit is a dead giveaway.

India, South Africa, China and Saudi Arabia seemed to support the idea of a new inter-governmental regulatory body to police the internet.

The US, Canada, the UK, Belgium and Australia, as also community and business representatives, have raised the cautionary flag.
So, conspiracy theories notwithstanding, Big Brother does want to control at least some of the gates to the internet – the simplest, biggest and most potent purveyor of freedom ever known to mankind. (Editor's Note: Story by Dev Nadkarni, Pictures chosen by C4.5)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tunisia: revolution of the ordinary man

TUNISIANS: Digging in and inspiring others.  
The popular uprising that swept Tunisia's longtime leader from power last week is sending ripples across other regions known for their autocratic rulers.

Following President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's ouster amid street protests, people in Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and Iran, have started to draw parallels between the situation in Tunisia and in their own countries.

To be sure, popular reaction is nowhere near the scale of that in places closer to Tunisia, like Egypt, where activists have been using social media to urge copycat protests.

But with most Central Asian presidents of a similar vintage to Ben Ali -- who had ruled Tunisia since 1987 -- people writing to RFE/RL's language services are pointing out some similarities, and voicing hope their rulers will go the same way.

"Just like us! Those in Tunisia are in the same situation like us, Azerbaijanis," writes Baku resident Natiq Cavadli in a comment on RFE/RL's Azeri-language website, azadliq.org.

"The Tunisian scenario could be repeated in Turkmenistan, too," a reader called "Makhmal" writes to azathabar.com, RFE/RL's Turkmen-language website. "If Turkmen leaders don't want the repetition of the Tunisian events in our country, they should take measures to improve the situation here."

Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan -- along with Ashgabat's neighbors in Central Asia -- are notorious for their autocratic, long-ruling presidents, who run their countries with an iron fist while their family members frequently have control over their country's wealth.

"Jomi" from Dushanbe hopes the overthrow of Ben Ali by popular uprising sends a message to people throughout Asia and Africa that "no one can stay in power indefinitely."
"First it was Kyrgyzstan, now Tunisia became the second and time will show who is going to be the third," writes "Jomi" to RFE/RL's Tajik-language website, ozodi.org. "Unfortunately, most leaders in Asia and Africa have opted for unjust ruling.... [Tunisia] should teach them a lesson."

"Wake up Central Asia!" writes "Kanatbek" from Bishkek on RFE/RL's Kyrgyz-language website, azzattyk.kg. (Farangis Najibullah, Radio Liberty)

Footnote: A twitter revolution? Or a WikiLeaks one? Or something much more basic.  

Social media did have an important role to play. An estimated 18 percent of Tunisia’s population is on Facebook and, left unblocked by the government, it was a place where many Tunisians shared updates pertaining to the protests. 

And with a paucity of on-the-ground media coverage, Twitter excelled as a medium in getting the message out, in driving mainstream media coverage, and in connecting activists on the ground with multipliers in the West.

Revolutions, of course, are notoriously slippery customers to evaluate. As Juan Cole writes, "Revolutions are always multiple revolutions happening simultaneously." It's difficult enough looking at revolutions from years ago and attributing relative importance to each of the many factors, let alone when people are still on the streets and chaos reigns. 

When you look at the complex mix of factors in Tunisia -- the economy, a frustrated over-educated, unemployed middle class, the trade unions, rampant censorship and government corruption, and, yes, social media -- establishing a single cause for the revolution, especially for something as marginal for most Tunisians as WikiLeaks, seems preposterous.

If there is a need to apply a single cause and moniker for the events in Tunisia, it would make as much sense to call this the “Mohamed Bouazizi Revolution,” after the man who set himself on fire a few weeks ago to protest the government. (Luke Allnut, Radio Liberty)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New appointments: daddy's little girl and dodgy highflyers

More behind the scene movements today the people of Fiji are unlikely to be told about officially.

Top of the list is news the daughter of the self-appointed leader, Voreqe Bainimarama, Litiana Bainimarama (Bereso), has been made CEO of the Fiji Sports Council.

Litiana was deported from New Zealand following the 2006 coup because of her connections (she was apparently given the flick by her then husband for the same reason) and used to work for Transtel, the Telecom Fiji subsidiary. 
More openly, the illegal attorney-General and Minister for Public Enterprises, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, has named two new appointments to the board of directors for Airports Fiji Limited (AFL).

They are Adrian Sofield, the chair of the Fiji Islands Trade and Investment Bureau (FTIB) and Faiz Khan, a lawyer. Sofield (pictured) has been appointed chair of AFL and Khan director and both have been signed up for three years. 

But not stated by the Khaiyum presser today is Sofield's earlier business activities. In the nineties, he is reported to have admitted to bribing the Mayor of Suva to speed up consent for the approval of a condominium site he was in charge of at Queen Elizabeth Drive.

Sofield was struck of by the Fiji Institute of Architects and the site today belongs to the Chinese Embassy.

Worth noting, also, is the pending departure of the publisher of the Fiji Times, Dallas Swinstead, after just five months. He was brought in by owner Mac Patel to help the paper 'cross over' after the forced News Ltd sale. 

Owner and publisher have both frothed about the Australian's contribution in re-inforcing the Fiji Times as the country's "most important paper" but many would agree that's an exxageration.

Less enthusiastic to discuss his future is Brigadier General  Mohammed Aziz, who is now rumoured to be off all boards and languishing at home after losing favour with fellow conspirators.

Chinese banks lending more than World Bank

Beijing, Jan 18 (DPA) China has loaned more money to developing countries than the World Bank in the past two years, according to the Financial Times.

Two state financial institutions, the China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank, loaned governments and companies in developing countries at least $110 billion in 2009 and 2010, surpassing the World Bank's outlays of $100 billion from mid-2008 to mid-2009, which was a record for the world lending institution, the newspaper said, citing its own research.

The loans were an indication of China's economic influence, its drive to secure raw materials and its efforts to diversify its economy away from a reliance on exports to Western developed countries, the Times said.

The money went to such projects as loans-for-oil agreements with Russia, Venezuela and Brazil; infrastructure projects in Ghana and Argentina; and power equipment for an Indian firm.

China offers most of its loans at more favourable terms than other lenders, including the World Bank, particularly when those projects coincide with its national interest.

To avoid competition over loans, the World Bank is trying to work with China and welcomed 'an important and growing partnership', the newspaper said.

'One of the topics I have been discussing with the Chinese authorities is how we can work with them to share our mutual experience to support other developing countries, whether in South-East Asia or Africa,' World Bank President Robert Zoellick said on a visit to China last year.

Both the China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank are so-called political banks and release no statements about the amount of their loans. The Financial Times said it compiled its figures from public announcements from the banks, borrowers and China's government. The true amount of the loans could be much higher, it said. (Sify News)

Picture: Fiji cuddling up to China.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Wadan Narsey: Helping FNPF despite media censorship

FNPF WEBSITE PIC: A charade. Below: Natadola and Narsey.

By Professor Wadan Narsey 

Can FNPF contributors and pensioners assist FNPF to become more viable?
With a stagnating economy FNPF revenues have been severely constrained. Few new jobs have been created and existing incomes have not grown; many loans are non-performing; returns on FNPF investments have been declining;  and large amounts of capital values have been written off because of mismanagement.

But collectively, FNPF contributors and pensioners remain the largest group of spenders in the Fiji economy.

Here is the challenge: can FNPF contributors and pensioners direct their consumption expenditure towards FNPF investments, and change FNPF policies for the better?

Can FNPF management encourage this by providing financial incentives and changing their management structure?

Can all FNPF stakeholders (FNPF itself, unions, pensioners, civil servants etc) conduct marketing campaigns in the aid of FNPF assets and loans?

If such campaigns work, others may lose: but given the current pressures on FNPF,  FNPF contributors and pensioners must look after our own life savings first.

FNPF investments and loans
What are the FNPF investments and loans?  By far the largest disposition of FNPF funds is in the form of loans to the Fiji Government.

Then there are other investments and large loans: the giant ATH, the Intercontinental Hotel and Golf Course at Natadola, Fiji Sugar Corporation,  Home Finance,  Holiday Inn, the Grand Pacific Hotel (currently used by backpacking soldiers), Penina Ltd (Tappoos City), and numerous others on which there is little information in FNPF’s 2010 Annual Report.

How can FNPF contributors  and pensioners encourage these loans and investments “come good” for FNPF?

The easy nuts to crack

To which FNPF investments and loans can FNPF contributors and pensioners direct their spending, so as to improve returns to FNPF?  Some are quite easy to see.

Home loans may be taken from Home Finance Corporation (HFC), rather than giving the business to other financial institutions, many of which are foreign owned enterprises which export their profits.

Holiday Inn facilities could be used wherever possible, for conferences, food, and leisure activities.

The accommodation, conference, golfing facilities at the Intercontinental (Natadola) could be used wherever possible rather than the alternatives which are often used. (Can we renegotiate a restoration of Vijay Singh’s endorsement of the Golf Course?)

FNPF consumers could, wherever possible, use the Tappoo City retail outlets to which more than $40 million of FNPF funds have been lent.

Workers at FSC (lent more than $50 million of FNPF funds) must do all they can to ensure that the mills work efficiently, producing maximum sugar output, with minimum break-downs.

Those large unions with entrepreneurial abilities (FTUC, FPSA, FTU, FTA) can assist FNPF investments in GPH and Momi “come good” instead of the disasters they seem destined to be under this military Government.

What can FNPF management do?
If FNPF gets around to issuing ID cards to FNPF contributors and pensioners, then FNPF investments or receivers of FNPF loans could be encouraged to give discounts to FNPF card-holders.

There could be special discounts on interest rates for Home Finance loans.

There could be discounts on bills at Holiday Inn.  [FNPF management could get some commercial advice on how to make Holiday Inn become the gold mine that it should be, taking advantage of the glorious location, overlooking the harbor and the mountains, with more attractive prices for drinks and food].

There could be serious discounts on accommodation, food, and golf fees at the Intercontinental Natadola to ensure that it operates close to 100% capacity, by attracting more business from Suva and other population centres.

Tappoo City outlets could offer discounts on all FNPF card holders but the City Council can also help.  Look out the top floor windows of the Tappoo City building, and admire the mountains, the beautiful bay, and then right below your eyes, is the garbage on the roof of the Nabukulou Fish market, and the Garrick Hotel roof, reducing the value of FNPF’s multi-million dollar investment in Tappoo City.

What are all the other Fiji investments where FNPF revenues may be directly or indirectly encouraged?

The tough nuts to crack
Loans to Government will be repaid to FNPF more easily if there is healthy economic growth, allowing Government tax revenues to grow healthily.

For this to happen, each and every FNPF contributors and pensioner needs to seriously consider all the political and legal factors that are constraining investment by foreigners and locals.

We all need to try and restore a credible and widely acceptable government which operates without the divisiveness that has existed in previous years.

The less said the better, about making ATH more profitable- we FNPF contributors are between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea here.

How to organize FNPF contributors and pensioners?

To make any difference, FNPF contributors need to be organized over this issue. That should not be difficult as the bulk of FNPF contributors are wages and salaried persons.

Public and private sector unions must mount campaigns with their members, making them aware where their FNPF investments are, and where they should direct their spending.

Large groups of contributors who don’t have unions, such as Fiji Military Forces and the Fiji Police Force  must discuss and organise themselves.

Wherever possible, government-funded or sponsored conferences organised by regional and international multilateral bodies and donors (SPC, Forum, SOPAC, ADB, AusAID, WHO, UNDP, NZ Aid, etc) should be held at FNPF investments- such as at the Intercontinental or the Holiday Inn. 

But ultimately, it all boils down to who sits on the FNPF Board.

Representation on FNPF Board

It has long been recognized that the FNPF Board must be completely independent of the Fiji Government and the Reserve Bank of Fiji, who may have some representation, of course, but not over-riding control, as at the moment.

There must be democratic elections to the FNPF Board, by FNPF contributors and pensioners separately, of a reasonably large number of representatives.  To ensure that solid professional persons are elected, strict criteria may be set, for who may stand for elections to the board.

The Chair must be drawn from these elected representatives.

The FNPF Board must ensure that responsible representatives are nominated on the committees to guide the GPH and Momi projects, with some co-funding from unions to ensure commitment.

Such representatives do not have to be FNPF Board Members.  Why indeed do some at the moment continue to hold multiple board membership, often with conflicts of interest?

Note current study
FNPF has recently commissioned an independent Australian team to advise how the FNPF Act and management structure should be reformed.

This study team will no doubt want to recommend that the FNPF Board becomes more if not fully independent of the Fiji Government and the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

Let us hope, for the sake of the FNPF contributors and pensioners, that this independent study is allowed to make its recommendations freely.

FNPF members should also ask why there is so little information on all of FNPF’s investments in the 2010 FNPF Annual Report? 

Why does the FNPF management refuse to make public the ILO, World Bank and other recent Reports on the financial sustainability of the FNPF?

Where indeed is the “accountability” and “integrity” that is boldly stated in the FNPF Vision?

Despite the reassuring noises coming from the unaccountable FNPF executives and Board, FNPF Members have a long way to go before they can breath any sigh of relief over their life savings, investments and pensions.

If they do not discuss these issues and organize to protect their life savings they will end up weeping buckets of tears.

And please, don’t blame the Bainimarama Regime’s senseless media censorship for your continued silence and inaction.  The Internet is here to stay.

Footnote: Why would the Bainimarama Regime ban this article from a daily paper? What greater damage is being done to our people’s welfare which the papers are stopped from reporting, every day?  Why do we Fiji citizens continue to suffer this daily loss of our basic human right to freedom of expression, without even a whimper?  We are pathetic. (Article released January 12)

Tunisians fighting on for democracy - lesson for the oppressed?

RIPPED TO SHREDS: Banner of former dictator, Ben Ali.
Determined Tunisians are holding tight to their demands for democratic rule.
Demonstrations have continued since dictator Zine-al Abidine Ben Ali was ousted on Friday, with protests overnight taking place as the interim prime minister tried to name a new government.

About a thousand people demonstrated in the capital demanding the interim prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, form a new government free of any members of Ali's former  Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party.

More than 70 people are believed dead but Ghannouchi earlier today named an interim government pledging to abolish Tunisia's information ministry and to create a state where the media had "total freedom".

The announcement came amid growing pressure from demonstrators for Tunisia to make a clean break with the policies of the former president, who was in office for 23 years.

Journalists say there is some uncertainty over whether the inclusion of several veteran ministers in senior positions will be acceptable to those protesting on the streets.

One opposition figure, Ahmed Bouazzi, of the Progressive Democratic Party, said he believed the demonstrations would now be put on hold.

"It's not realistic to dissolve the ruling party," he told the BBC, citing the example of the chaos that engulfed Iraq after Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath party was dissolved in 2003. "We can go forward with this government, and can even go again into the streets if it is not working."

But others were less convinced by the presence of several veterans of Ben Ali's government in the new administration.

"It's as if Ben Ali's system is still there," Mohamed Mishgri told Reuters news agency. "It's for that reason that the demonstrations are continuing in Tunis. We want a new state with new people."

Unrest in Tunisia had grown over several weeks, with widespread protests over high unemployment and high food prices pitching demonstrators against Tunisia's police and military.

After dozens of deaths the protests eventually toppled Ben Ali's government. The demonstrations gained momentum in December after a 26-year-old unemployed man, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest against a lack of jobs in the country. He died earlier this month.

Amid concerns the protests may spread across the region, a man set himself on fire outside the Egyptian parliament buildings in Cairo on Monday. His motivation was not immediately clear.

There have also been several such incidents in Algeria which, like Egypt and Tunisia, has high unemployment and has been facing political unrest. (BBC and other news sources)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Future of illegal president, Epeli Nailatikau, under debate again

The future of the high rolling Ratu Epeli Nailatikau is back under the microscope with fresh unconfirmed reports his days as illegal president are coming to an end.

According to several people in and outside of Fiji, Nailatikau has been sent a letter by the illegal attorney general, Aiyaz Sayed Khaiyum, telling him that his term as president wraps up at the end of February.

Coupfourpointfive has been unable to verify the information independently, but has spoken to people who say Nailatikau has indeed been told he will no longer be president from the 28th next month. We hope to shed more light on this.

The unpopular illegal regime already has a raft of problems, not least the woes of the economy and loose ends at the camp, so it would be stupid to buy into more trouble by getting rid of Nailatikau. It's believed, though, that the hierarchy remains nervous about Nailatikau being swayed to dismiss Voreqe Bainimarama as prime minister, then going ahead and decreeing that and reinstating an interim prime minister to take the nation to elections under the 1997/98 Constitution.

Nailatikau assumed the role of president after the illegal regime abrogated the Constitution in April 2009 and 'retired' the then 88 year old president, Ratu Josefa Iloilo. He was vice-president first, becoming acting president in April, before being sworn in seven months later as president in November.

Footnote: Much easier to confirm has been this interesting tit bit (pardon the pun). Voreqe Bainimarama's favourite henchman, Siti Qiliho, who was in Sinai as the Fiji Battalion Commander, is being sent back for fraternizing with a female member of the Battalion. He's not the first to be caught out, of course. Mosese Tikoitoga, who was made Land Force Commander last year, was hauled home for impregnating one of his female staff at Commissioner Central Office, although this was never cited as the official reason for him being posted back to camp.

Picture: Epeli Nailatikau taking a bet on the Melbourne Cup stake late last year.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tunisian president ousted - hope for Fiji?

VICTORY: Game over for Tunisian dictator, Zine be-Albidine Ben Ali.

Tunisia's president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has fled his country after weeks of mass protests culminated in a victory for people power over one of the Arab world's most repressive regimes.

Ben Ali had taken refuge in Saudi Arabia, at the end of an extraordinary day which had seen the declaration of a state of emergency, the evacuation of tourists of British and other nationalities, and an earthquake for the authoritarian politics of the Middle East and north Africa.

After hours of conflicting reports had him criss-crossing southern Europe by air, the Saudi state news agency confirmed he had arrived in the kingdom together with his family. Earlier, French media reported that Nicolas Sarkozy had refused Ben Ali refuge, although France denied that any request had been received.

In Tunisia, prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi announced that he had taken over as interim president, vowing to respect the constitution and restore stability for Tunisia's 10.5 million citizens. "I call on the sons and daughters of Tunisia, of all political and intellectual persuasions, to unite to allow our beloved country to overcome this difficult period and to return to stability," he said in a broadcast.

But there was confusion among protesters about what will happen next, and concern that Ben Ali might be able to return before elections could be held. "We must remain vigilant," warned an email from the Free Tunis group, monitoring developments to circumvent an official news blackout.

Ben Ali, 74, had been in power since 1987. On Thursday he announced he would not stand for another presidential term in 2014, but the move came after Tunisia had been radicalised by weeks of street clashes and the killings of scores of demonstrators. Today in the capital police fired teargas to disperse crowds unmoved by the president's concession and demanding his immediate resignation. A state of emergency and a 12-hour curfew did little to restore calm. Analysts said that the army would be crucial.

Last night, soldiers guarded ministries, public buildings and the state TV building. Public meetings were banned, and the security forces were authorised to fire live rounds.

Tunis's main avenues were deserted except for scores of soldiers. Protesters, some of whom had earlier been beaten and clubbed by police in the streets, still sheltered in apartment buildings. Army vehicles were stationed outside the interior ministry. Opposition leader Najib Chebbi, one of Ben Ali's fiercest critics, captured the sense of historic change. "This is a crucial moment. There is a change of regime under way. Now it's the succession," he said. He added: "It must lead to profound reforms, to reform the law and let the people choose."

Al-Jazeera television reported that a unnamed member of Ben Ali's wife's family had been detained by security forces at the airport in the capital, Tunis. Le Monde reported later that a plane carrying Ben Ali's daughter and grandaughter had landed near Paris. Hatred of the president's relatives, symbols of corruption and cronyism, has galvanised the opposition in recent weeks.

Tunisians had been riveted by revelations of US views of the Ben Ali regime in leaked WikiLeaks cables last month.

The US led international calls for calm and for the Tunisian people to be given a free choice of leaders.

"I condemn and deplore the use of violence against citizens peacefully voicing their opinion in Tunisia, and I applaud the courage and dignity of the Tunisian people," said Barack Obama.

Tunisia's political history and dictator's rise to power:
1946 Tunisia becomes semi-autonomous state in the French Union
1947 Special ministry set up, with Tunisian officials making up the majority
1949 Habib Bourguiba returns to Tunisia to promote independence, having been forced into exile in 1945
1955 A government with only Tunisian members is installed
1956 Tunisia becomes an independent nation. The Neo Destour party wins a landslide election and Bourguiba is elected president of the first Tunisian national assembly
1957 For the first time, women are allowed to vote in regional elections. Tunisia becomes a republic and Bourguiba becomes its first president
1964 Swathes of mainly French-owned land is expropriated by the government, with the result that Paris stops all financial assistance
1975 Bourguiba is appointed president for life by the national assembly
1987 Ben Ali ousts Bourguiba in a coup, citing senility, and installs himself as prime minister
1989 Tunisia holds elections. Six opposition parties participate on this occasion but Ben Ali is elected president with 99% of the vote. His party, the RCD, wins all 141 seats in the national assembly
1994 Ben Ali is the only presidential candidate in 1994, winning 99.9% of the vote, drawing international condemnation
1998 Tunisia signs a landmark trade agreement with the EU
1999 Ben Ali receives 99.44% of the votes in the general election to win a third spell as the country's most powerful person
2002 Ben Ali amends Tunisia's constitution to allow a president to stay in power until the age of 75 and be re-elected unlimited times
2004 Ben Ali is re-elected once more, again receiving an unlikely 94.5% of the votes. Opposition party the Democratic Progressives withdraws two days before the vote, branding Tunisia's political system "a masquerade of democracy"
2006 A dozen hardline Islamists are killed in shoot-outs with security forces in the capital, Tunis. Lawyers say hundreds of people had been arrested on suspicion of links with terrorist groups since 2003, when the authorities gained new powers of arrest
2008 In the southern mining region of Gafsa, clashes break out between troops and young unemployed demonstrators
2009 Ben Ali re-elected as president for a fifth term, winning 89% of the vote
2011 Following violent protests throughout the country, Ben Ali reportedly flees Tunisia and the prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, announces he has taken over as interim president. (The Guardian)