TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) - Tunisian authorities struggled to restore order Sunday, arresting the top presidential security chief and trying to stop gunfights that erupted in and beyond the capital. One clash broke out around the deposed president's palace on the Mediterranean shore, another near the headquarters of the main opposition party.
Observers worldwide were looking to see which way the North African nation would turn as its new leadership sought to tamp down the looting, arson and random violence that has taken place since autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday. The nation was in the midst of an unprecedented power shift for the Arab world.
Tensions appeared to be mounting between Tunisians buoyant over Ben Ali's departure and loyalists in danger of losing major perks built up under his patronage. Tunisian police made dozens of arrests, some for drive-by shootings on buildings and people in the capital, Tunis.
The security chief Ali Seriati and his deputy were charged with a plot against state security, aggressive acts and for "provoking disorder, murder and pillaging," the TAP state news agency reported.
To cheers and smiles, some residents of Tunis tore down massive portraits of Ben Ali that were omnipresent during his reign, hanging on lampposts and billboards, gazing down over shops and hotels. Some stretched several stories high.
A gunbattle broke out around the presidential palace in late afternoon in Carthage on the Mediterranean shore, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Tunis. The army and members of the newly appointed presidential guard fought off attacks from militias loyal to Ben Ali, said a member of the new presidential guard. Helicopters were surveying the zone.
The militias emerged from a forest near the Carthage Cathedral to charge, the guard member said by telephone. He told The Associated Press the militia are "numerous" and are using various kinds of arms but gave no further details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be publicly named.
Carthage residents said they have barricaded themselves inside their homes amid the shooting. Helicopters were surveying the zone.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi said Sunday night that police and the army have arrested numerous members of armed groups, without saying how many.
"The coming days will show who is behind them," he said on state TV. He added that arms and documents have been seized from them and these have been turned over to judicial authorities.
"We won't be tolerant towards these people," the prime minister said.
Police stopped vehicles as the city remained under a state of emergency. More than 50 people were arrested on suspicion of using ambulances, rental cars and government vehicles for random shootings, a police official told The Associated Press. A crowd of 200 in Tunis cheered one such arrest Sunday.
A few gas stations and stores reopened Sunday morning, and calm returned in some residential areas.
But a gunfight broke out in the afternoon between security forces and unidentified attackers in front of the main opposition party PDP's headquarters, said party member Issam Chebbi. A large crowd swarmed the area in central Tunis after the incident and heavy security was deployed.
Soon after the clash, repeated volleys of gunfire were heard close by near the Interior Ministry, lasting for more than two hours.
Before the gunbattle at PDP, police stopped, tackled and arrested a group of men in a taxi in front of the party headquarters, according to a video obtained by the AP. Four people were arrested, two Tunisians and two foreigners, Chebbi said. A rifle was seen in the vehicle.
It was unclear if the arrests, the gunbattle at the PDP and the gunbattle near the Interior Ministry were linked.
Dozens of people have died in a month of clashes between police and protesters angry about the repression and corruption under Ben Ali - unrest that ended his 23-year regime.
A Paris-based photojournalist, Loucas Mebrouk von Zabiensky, 32, of the EPA photo agency, was in critical condition Sunday after being hit Friday in the face by a tear gas canister, according to a French consular official in Tunisia.
"He is still connected to machines that keep him alive," EPA deputy editor-in-chief Gernot Hensel said. No other details about his condition were available.
The interim president, former parliament speaker Fouad Mebazaa, has told the prime minister to create a national unity government and urged him to consult with the opposition, who were marginalized under Ben Ali. Presidential elections must be held in 60 days.
Ghannouchi also said on state TV that a new government will "most certainly" be announced Monday "to open a new page in the history of Tunisia."
There are three legal opposition parties that could be included in a "government of national unity" which Ghannouchi was charged with forming. Consultations are advanced, he said.
Many Tunisians were especially overjoyed at the prospect of life without Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi and her family.
Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks had discussed the high levels of nepotism and corruption displayed by her clan. But U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley rejected any notion that WikiLeaks disclosures led to the revolution in Tunisia, saying Sunday that Tunisians were already well aware of the graft, nepotism and lavish lifestyles of the former president and his relatives.
Tunisian media reported one brother-in-law of the president, Imed Trabelsi, was attacked by an angry mob at Tunis airport and died. The reports could not be immediately confirmed.
Ordinary Tunisians concentrated on two key needs Sunday - food and security.
Many scoured the capital for food. Most shops remained closed Sunday, others were looted and bread and milk were running short.
"We're starting to feel it now," said Imed Jaound at the Tunis port, which has been closed since Friday.
Fish mongers were selling 2- to 3-day-old fish, said Ezzedine Gaesmi, a salesman at the indoor market in Tunis, where numerous stands were empty.
"There's no fresh fish. If it continues for two or three more days, we'll close," he said.
Overnight patrols were being organized in both wealthy and working-class neighborhoods. Fatma Belaid stayed up late to serve rounds of coffee to patrols in her section of Tunis.
"Everyone participates as he can," she said.
A well-known human rights advocate returned home to the embattled - but in many ways, hopeful - country. Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation of Human Rights, said her long-repressed countrymen appear poised for unprecedented freedoms.
"We can start to hope," agreed Nejib Chebbi, a founder of the opposition PDP party. But he said the key question is whether a new government will be pluralistic or again dominated by Ben Ali's RCD party.
"If the RCD is dominant, we're not out of the woods," he said.
Hundreds of stranded tourists were still being evacuated Sunday from the Mediterranean nation known for its wide beaches, deserts and ancient ruins.
The downfall of the 74-year-old Ben Ali, who had taken power in a bloodless coup in 1987, served as a warning to other autocratic leaders in the Arab world. The self-immolation and death of a despairing, unemployed 26-year-old university graduate last month triggered the protests, and social media like Facebook and Twitter were used to spin general anger into outright revolt.
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday the unrest in Tunisia illustrated the widespread instability plaguing the region and underscored the need for strong security arrangements in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
Tunisia's foreign minister will brief Arab leaders meeting in Egypt this week on the upheaval surrounding Ben Ali's ouster.
Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Diaa Hadid in Jerusalem and Jenny Barchfield in Paris contributed to this report.