TUNIS (AFP) – Tunisian President Zine El Abidine quit on Friday after 23 years in power and fled the north African state as the authorities declared a state of emergency following deadly protests. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced on that he had taken over as interim president, after a day of violent clashes between rock-throwing protesters and riot police in the streets of central Tunis. "I call on Tunisians of all political persuasions and from all regions to demonstrate patriotism and unity," Ghannouchi said in a solemn live address. Government sources told AFP that Ben Ali had left the country but it was not immediately clear where he was headed. Ben Ali had promised on Thursday to stand down at the end of his mandate in 2014 and said the prices of basic foodstuffs would be cut. Ghannouchi announced after another day of violence Friday that the government had been sacked and elections would be held in six months. Ben Ali's dramatic departure came after several tumultuous weeks in which a protest over high food prices and unemployment in central Tunisia escalated and spread across the country, with anger against the president spilling into the streets. "We just want democracy," 24-year-old Hosni, his face wrapped in a Tunisian flag against tear gas, said during riots ahead of the president's departure. Tarek, 19, an engineering student with a rock in one hand and a metal bar in the other, said: "Our president has promised a lot. They're empty promises." Protesters even descended on the interior ministry in Tunis, one of the symbols of 74-year-old Ben Ali's iron-fisted rule, where they openly chanted for his swift departure and paid tribute to the "blood of the martyrs". "I've never seen anything like this. This is our chance. We'll never have another chance like this," said Adel Ouni, a 36-year-old diplomat, observing the protest, adding: "This is a social revolution." "This is a demonstration of hope," Moncef Ben Mrad, editor of an independent newspaper, said at the protest in Tunis earlier on Friday. "It is the birth of a people who demand more freedom and that the families that have looted the country return the wealth and are called to account." MY TAKE ON THIS: YOTE YANAWEZEKANA KUMBE SIKU YAO INAKUJA POLISI HAWATAWEZA KUUA WATANZANIA WOTE: KIKWETE AWE MAKINI NA ANAVYOIENDESHA NCHI HII, NI NCHI YA WANANCHI WA TANZANIA KUNA SIKU ATAIKIMBIA IKULU ILE WADANGANYIKA WAKISEMA IMETOSHA SASA.