Tunisia's president vows prices' slash, media freedom

Ben Ali rules out new mandate amid Tunisia riots

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Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, facing a wave of violent unrest, said on Thursday he would not change the constitution to allow him to run again when his term expires in 2014 and pledged to give complete freedom to media and to slash prices on food staples.

"I said in 1987 no presidencies for life. I repeat now no presidencies for life. I refuse to touch the constitution, I will not change the age in the constitution," Ben Ali said in a televised speech.

The Tunisian constitution states no one over 75 years of age can run for the presidency and Ben Ali is 74. It had been widely expected he would have the document amended to allow him to run for a new term.

Ben Ali, who became president in 1987, also ordered his security forces to stop using firearms against protesters and said prices for sugar, milk and bread would be reduced.

"I have decided on total liberty for the press and to no longer close internet sites," he said.

In an emotional speech delivered, in a first for the Tunisian president, in local dialect instead of classical Arabic, he said he had been tricked by some of his officials.

"I have been deceived, they deceived me. I am not the sun which shines over everything."

"I understand the Tunisians, I understand their demands. I am sad about what is happening now after 50 years of service to the country, military service, all the different posts, 23 years of the presidency."

It is the third time since the outbreak of protests in mid-December that the authoritarian leader has addressed the nation, and the second time this week.

The unrest started with protests over unemployment in the western Sidi Bouzid region, but spread across the country, reaching the capital in the past 48 hours.

In his first address, Ben Ali accused opposition groups of politicizing events in Sidi Bouzid.

On Jan. 10 he promised 300,000 jobs over two years and said protesters committed "terrorist acts" orchestrated from abroad.

In an attempt to calm the tensions, he fired his interior minister on Wednesday amid criticism about the harsh police crackdown on protests that an international rights group says has left 66 people dead.

Ben Ali also sacked top advisers earlier on Thursday amid continued riots in the capital and other parts of the country, according to a tally by International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The Tunisian president fired his close advisers Abdelwahab Abdallah and Abdelaziz Ben Dhia following a night of heavy clashes in the capital Tunis despite a curfew aimed at bringing a halt to the north African country’s worst unrest in decades.

Ben Ali was overwhelmingly re-elected to a fifth term in October 2009, albeit with a score which dipped for the first time just below 90 percent.