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Africa

Tunisians scoff at Ben Ali's planned trial in absentia

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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-06-14

Tunisians on Tuesday responded coolly to the government's decision to try former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (pictured) in absentia next week, calling for the ousted leader's extradition from Saudi Arabia to face justice in person.

AFP - Tunisians criticised Tuesday the government's decision to put ousted president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali on trial in absentia next week, saying he should be made to stand in the dock.

Transitional Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi announced Monday the trial would start on June 20, adding the government had not received a reply to a request to Saudi Arabia for his extradition after he fled there mid-January.

"It won't be the trial we wanted for Ben Ali," said journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, long a critic of the man who ruled with an iron fist for 23 years before quitting amidst a popular uprising that sparked others in the Arab world.

"He is responsible for thousands of cases of torture, he is responsible for hundreds of deaths. His family looted the country. These are serious crimes. How can we try him if he is not there?"

Tunisian officials have said the initial charges against Ben Ali and his wife would relate to the discovery of $27 million of dollars in cash, weapons and drugs in presidential palaces.

They form the basis of only two of dozens of ongoing inquiries, including murder investigations, into the first couple, their family and the regime's former ministers and officials, some of whom are still in Tunisia.

"I would not begin by Ben Ali, I would start with those who are here," Ben Brik said.

"Everything has been done to avoid a real trial. This is a publicity stunt to manipulate public opinion," he told AFP.

It was not immediately clear how many people would be on trial and how the proceedings would be held.

Essebsi told Al Jazeera television that Ben Ali would be tried by a military tribunal and a civilian court. There were about 90 charges against him, he added.

Authorities have said they are also looking into cases of murder, abuse of power, trafficking of archaeological artifacts and money laundering.

Prominent human rights activist Radhia Nasraoui said the plan to try the authoritarian ruler in absentia was "frustrating".

"There's no rush this month. We could have kept up the pressure on Saudi authorities to have him extradited," he told AFP.

The general public also appeared disappointed. An office worker, Feten, was pleased at the announcement of a trial date but said the absence of Ben Ali meant it "won't lead to very much."

Ridha, a teacher, said the aim was to calm the country but the process would only be "camouflage".

The justice ministry said early in June this first case against Ben Ali, 74, concerned the discovery of arms and drugs at the presidential palace in Carthage.

The second related to an anti-corruption commission's finding of 27 million dollars (18.7 million euros) at a palace at Sidi Bou Said in northern Tunis.

Ben Ali's French lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, this month called the case Tunisia is building against him "nothing but a masquerade which serves no purpose other than to mark a symbolic break with the past".

A close member of his family has said that in February Ben Ali had a stroke, which plunged him into a coma.

Date created : 2011-06-14

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