TUNIS, Jan 13, 2012 (AFP)
TUNIS, Jan 13, 2012 (AFP)
Tunisia’s exiled despot Zine el Abidine Ben Ali plans legal action to save millions in seized assets, his lawyer said Friday as Arab heads of state converged on Tunis to mark his ouster’s anniversary.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 last year after a popular uprising, bringing a shock end to his 23 years in power and triggering the Arab Spring wave of pro-democracy protests still sweeping the region.
The ousted president’s lawyer Akram Azoury wrote in a statement that Ben Ali would take a complaint about the seizure of his property to a United Nations human rights committee in Geneva.
“It isn’t possible to confiscate somebody’s belongings except after a court ruling respecting the norms of a free trial,” he said, denouncing “an abusive measure contrary to the constitution and Tunisian laws.”
The Ben Ali clan’s assets are estimated to fetch several billion dollars, including hundreds of companies with a value close to a quarter of Tunisia’s annual budget, bank accounts in several countries and palaces.
Ben Ali has had several convictions handed down against him in his absence by Tunisian courts, including for embezzlement, illegal possession of weapons and narcotics, housing fraud and abuse of power.
He is accused in 18 trials, notably of murder and destabilising the state, and Tunisia has put out an international warrant for his arrest.
Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi live in the city of Jeddah and “are becoming increasingly religious,” according to a source in their entourage who added that the ousted dictator was writing his memoirs.
Guests are invited to a ceremony Saturday in Tunis that will include speeches by the country’s new leaders, President Moncef Marzouki, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali and Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar.
The Tunisian revolution, which led to a peaceful election won by moderate Islamists in October, inspired the so-called Arab Spring that felled long-standing autocrats Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moamer Kadhafi in Libya.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, seen as one of the main sponsors of the Arab Spring, arrived in Tunis on Friday and was welcomed by Marzouki.
Among other prominent guests, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika — who was a minister in his country’s first post-independence government half a century ago — has so far weathered growing social discontent.
Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani will represent Morocco, where King Mohamed VI introduced reforms curbing his near absolute powers to nip growing Tunisian-inspired street protests in the bud.
Weeks after Ben Ali hurriedly flew out of Tunisia, a rebellion started in neighboring Libya, eventually toppling Kadhafi and installing a new Islamist administration, whose head Mustafa Abdel Jalil is also due in Tunis.
On the sidelines of the official programme for Saturday, calls for a march on Bourguiba Avenue — one of the symbols of the uprising — were issued on social networks.
The interior ministry announced Friday that around 1,000 prisoners would be pardoned on Saturday to mark the anniversary of Ben Ali’s downfall.