Tunisia's Constitutional Council announced that under the constitution the speaker of parliament, not the prime minister, should be the interim president, state television reported on Saturday.
Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said on Friday he was taking over as interim president because the incumbent, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was temporarily unable to fulfil his duties.
The council, the country's highest legal authority on constitutional issues, also said the constitution requires new presidential elections to be held no later than 60 days from now, state television reported.
"The Constitutional Council announces that the post of president is definitively vacant so we should refer to article 57 of the constitution, which states that the speaker of parliament occupies the post of president temporarily and calls for elections within a period of between 45 and 60 days," Fathi Abd Ennather, president of the council said on state television.
Arab League calls for calm, unity
The Arab League called on Saturday for Tunisia's political forces and other groups to keep the peace and lead the North African country out of crisis after the president was swept from power amid widespread protests.
The statement by the Cairo-based League was one of the first major Arab statements on developments in Tunisia.
Saudi Arabia had earlier expressed support for Tunisians as they overcome this "difficult stage" in a statement welcoming the arrival in the kingdom of ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Many oher Arab states have stayed silent.
The Arab League called "for all political forces, representatives of Tunisian society and officials to stand together and unite to maintain the achievements of the Tunisian people and realise national peace."
It called for a return to calm and urged the country to reach a "national consensus on ways to bring the country out of this crisis in a way that guarantees respect for the will of the Tunisian people".
Analysts say the toppling of Ben Ali will send shock waves through the Arab world, where countries are mostly ruled by monarchs or authoritarian rulers, many in power for years.
Hundreds of soldiers patrolled the streets of the Tunisian capital on Saturday after protests swept the president from power.
Tunisian air space, closed on Friday, was reopened and the official news agency said all airports were open.
The Tunisian army was called onto the streets, as residents said groups were marauding through Tunis setting fire to buildings and attacking people and property.
Army roadblocks stopped access on Saturday to Bourguiba Avenue, Tunis' main thoroughfare and scene of clashes on Friday. Several hundred soldiers as well as tanks, military jeeps and armoured personnel carriers manned the approaching roads, still littered with the debris from Friday's violence.
A military helicopter circled over the city centre.
In working class suburbs, residents lined the streets with metal bars and knives to ward off looters.
The Eurasia Group consultancy said: "Although the streets of Tunis are calmer than they have been in several days, Ben Ali's departure is not likely to immediately defuse tension across the country.
British Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said the next 48 hours would be critical: "What we hope to see is Prime Minister Ghannouchi being able to gather significant figures around him to put together a coalition body which will take us through to what we hope will be free and fair elections."
President Nicolas Sarkozy, who refused permission for Ben Ali to enter former colonial ruler France, has called a meeting about Tunisia for 1100 GMT with senior ministers.
ReutersLast Mod: 15 Ocak 2011, 13:26