The interim Prime Minister of Tunisia, Mohammed Ghannouchi, has resigned amidst demands by protesters for the removal of all figures associated with the ousted regime of former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Ghannouchi, 69 made the announcement on state TV after delivering a speech in which he defended his performance in government. He was long associated with Ben Ali, having served under him since 1989.

Tunisia’s interim president, Fouad Mebazaa, said Ghannouchi, will be replaced by 84-year-old Beji Caid-Essebsi, who had served as foreign minister in the government of the late President Habib Bourguiba, the founder of modern Tunisia.

After having taken more than one week of thinking, I became convinced, and my family shared my conviction, and decided to resign. It is not fleeing my responsibilities; I have been shouldering my responsibilities since 14 January [when Ben Ali escaped Tunisia into exile], Ghannouchi said.

I am not ready to be the person who takes decisions that would end up causing casualties. This resignation will serve Tunisia, and the revolution and the future of Tunisia.”

Demonstrators reportedly cheered the news and took to the streets to celebrate.

“I think it’s going to ease tension,” said Kamel Labidi, a Tunisian human rights activist, according to media reports. “In the coming days, there will be fewer protests. But the problem is, there’s a lack of communication on the part of the political parties and the government. And the protesters have no leader.”

Earlier, Tunis police fired warning shots at protesters demanding a new government and constitution. The clashes led to the death of
at least three people.

The government has promised to hold elections by July.