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Africa

Ben Ali cohorts await trial verdict

©

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-08-10

Tunisian prosecutors Wednesday sought tough sentences for the 23 relatives and allies of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who are standing trial for illegally attempting to flee the country with valuables during the January revolt.

AFP - Prosecutors demanded harsh punishments for 23 relatives and allies of Tunisia's ousted president, accused of trying to flee the country with jewels and cash, as their trial ended Wednesday.

There was tight security at the Tunis court, where defence lawyers asked judge Faouzi Jbeli to dismiss the charges in a case that has been keenly watched amid anger over abuses during Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23 years in power.

However the trial judge announced that a verdict will be publicly announced on Friday.

Most of those in the dock, who include sisters and nephews of Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi, were arrested as they were going to board a plane on January 14, the day the former presidential couple fled to Saudi Arabia.

The 14 men and nine women on trial deny the charges. They face six months to five years in prison and heavy fines, according to judicial sources.

Among those charged is Ben Ali's presidential security chief, General Ali Seriati, accused of helping the group to leave, including with false passports and large amounts of Tunisian dinars, foreign currency and jewels.

As the trial came to a close Seriati cried out "long live Tunisia, may this trial be the beginning of a new Tunisia, a new justice."

A senior police colonel told reporters Monday that Seriati had ordered police to allow the group to fly out, but he had made the decision to arrest them.

They were stopped on a bus on the airport tarmac that was headed to a plane, said Colonel Samir Tarhouni from the Anti-Terrorist Brigade (BAT).

"He should not only be found innocent, but raised to the ranks of the heroes of the revolution," Seriati's lawyer Abdelkrim Kahloul told the court, prompting heckles from the crowd.

Abada Kefi, another defence lawyer, told AFP "Seriati is an innocent and honest man, who was arrested arbitrarily."

Handcuffed and visibly weakened, Seriati also faces a separate trial for more serious allegations of plotting against internal state security and provoking disorder.

His son Samir, a pilot who attended the hearing, told AFP that Seriati was the victim of a show trial and that his father often complained privately about the abuses of the ousted regime.

Kefi said charges against all the accused should be dropped because proper judicial procedured were not followed.

Imed Trablesi, a nephew of Ben Ali's wife, interrupted proceedings by demanding a "a fair and public trial" before being silenced by the judge.

Trablesi has already been sentenced to four years in prison for drug possession.

The judge was earlier expected to deliver his verdict on Wednesday.

Ben Ali and his wife fled Tunisia after weeks of uprisings which a deadly crackdown failed to quell. The revolt sparked others in the Arab world, including one that toppled Egypt's Hosni Mubarak a month later.

Since his escape to Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali has been twice convicted and sentenced in his absence for possession of arms, drugs and archaeological artefacts, and for misappropriating public funds.

Meanwhile, Some 300 people demonstrated in central Tunis Wednesday demanding an independent judicial system and a break from the corrupt legal practices that plagued the previous regime.

"Neither freedom nor impunity for criminals," protesters shouted in a demonstration that remained peaceful.

Date created : 2011-08-10

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