Saudi Arabia mum on Tunisia's Ben Ali extradition request

Saudi Arabia has ignored Tunisia’s request to hand over ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to be tried for a brutal clampdown on protests, the head of the Tunis military tribunal said on Tuesday.

“We have asked for his extradition on two occasions, but we have not received any reply,” said Hedi Ayari, who presides over the trial of Ben Ali and about 40 other senior officials for the killing of 43 protesters and wounding of 97 others in Tunis and north towns like Bizerte and Nabeul.

Ayari was responding, during the trial, to questions by lawyers about the government’s efforts to have Ben Ali extradited to Tunisia.

The trial, being conducted in Ben Ali’s absence, opened on December 21, and was again postponed Tuesday to January 10.

Ben Ali, his former security chiefs Adel Touiri and Lotfi Zouaoui, and two of his interior ministers risk the death penalty if found guilty.

More than 300 people were killed in the popular uprising against Ben Ali’s regime that started in December 2010 and culminated in the former strongman’s flight to Saudi Arabia on January 14 last year.

Touiri and Zouaoui told the court they did not order police to use live bullets on protesters.

Touiri also said that Ben Ali had been “totally disconnected from reality”, and at a meeting with senior officials on December 26 2010 “did not say a single word about the security situation”.

Dozens of friends and family of victims protested outside the court to denounce what they called a “farce”, as the trial proceeded with 27 of the accused at large.

Ben Ali has already had several convictions handed down against him in his absence, including for embezzlement, illegal possession of weapons and narcotics, housing fraud and abuse of power.

He is accused in 18 trials, notably for murder and destabilising the state, and has an international warrant out for his arrest.—AFP

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