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Ben Ali says he was duped into fleeing Tunisia

media One of Ben Ali's defence lawyers, Abdessatar Massoudi, before the trial … © AFP/ Fethi Belaid

Ousted Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who is facing trial in absentia, said in a statement on Monday that he had been tricked into leaving his country, and had not simply fled.

Ben Ali's lawyer, Akram Azoury, who released the statement to the press, made clear that it did not mean Ben Ali still considered himself to be president.

Ben Ali said in the declaration that he had been advised by his security chief to leave Tunisia on 14 January, because of fears of an assassination plot.

He said he had taken his family to safety in Saudi Arabia, but had explicitly instructed the pilot to wait for him at Jeddah airport.

"But after arriving in Jeddah the plane turned around and headed back to Tunis, disobeying my instructions", he said, insisting that his departure was part of a plot against his presidency.

Ben Ali was the first leader to be toppled in the wave of Arab uprisings.

On Monday when his trial opened in his absence in Tunisia, his lawyer asked for more time for his defence team to prepare.

He denies all the charges, including theft and weapons offences, but could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.


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