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Tunisia’s Ben Ali, wife seek ‘justice’ back home

The Ben Alis were said to have stakes in banks, airlines, car dealerships, radio and TV stations and big retailers (© 2009 AFP)

Leila Ben Ali, the reviled wife of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said they were ready to face trial back home but conditions for a fair hearing did not exist, in an interview published on Sunday.

In the first interview since the couple fled to Saudi Arabia after a popular uprising in January last year that sparked the Arab Spring protests, she also told France’s Le Parisien daily that her husband wanted Tunisians to recognise his achievements.

“We are ready to face trial in our country if it is fair and without excess or favour”, the 55-year-old said, adding: “For the present, there is nothing but hatred and vengeance.”

While denying the charges against her, Leila Ben Ali — who was sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison in June last year for stealing public funds and another 15 years a month later for illegal possession of weapons and drugs — said she was “sorry” for any possible mistakes she may have made.

“I don’t involve myself in politics,” she said. “My daily life is devoted to charity and social work. Apart from that I help my loved ones to live better, that’s true,” she said.

“I never wanted to harm anyone,” she said.

Ben Ali, meanwhile, issued an appeal to his countrymen in a message relayed through his wife.

“I deplore the fact that people have forgotten that for 23 years their lives improved greatly … and Tunisia became a modern country. I hope that my compatriots will render me justice by remembering the journey we undertook together.”

“I hope that in the twilight of my life I will retain my honour.”

His wife — dubbed the “Queen of Carthage” and reputed to have a voracious appetite for power and money has admitted that the flashy lifestyle of her Trabelsi clan — which had a stranglehold on business in the country — played a large part in ending Ben Ali’s 23-year rule.

Their control over the north African country’s economy was vast and they were said to have stakes in banks, airlines, car dealerships, radio and television stations and big retailers.

But Leila Ben Ali underscored that her husband, who was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for presiding over the bloody crackdown on the protests against his regime, was innocent.

Ben Ali who is 75, faces countless trials and has already been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on a range of charges including drug trafficking and embezzlement.

When asked if her husband had ordered that protestors be fired upon, she told Le Parisien: “Never. To prove this my husband’s lawyer has asked that recordings of conversations between the president and the interior and defence ministers be made available to judicial authorities.

“Strangely, the transitional government refused this request,” she said, repeating her charge that the popular protests were a plot that was orchestrated.

“I do not at all believe the scenario of a spontaneous revolution,” she said.

In a book entitled “My Truth” and released last month, Leila Ben Ali admitted her family’s role in their downfall.

“Among my own, there were some who exaggerated — often the younger ones who freely indulged in their appetite for profits and refused to set limits.”

“These weaknesses and errors of my family were amplified outside and used with the sole objective of bringing down the regime of Ben Ali… We were the Achilles heel of the president.”

Signature : PARIS (AFP)

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