Tunisia's ousted dictator dies in exile

Autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali governed Tunisia for 23 years before he was toppled in 2011.
Autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali governed Tunisia for 23 years before he was toppled in 2011.

Tunisia's long-time dictator and former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, deposed by an Arab Spring revolt in 2011, has died in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Ben Ali's lawyer confirmed the 83-year-old's death on Thursday.

"The former president died today in Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) after a health problem," Mounir Ben Salha said.

"His family has been informed of his death."

Ben Ali died at a hospital, private Tunisian television Nessma reported.

Before his death, he had asked to be buried in the Saudi holy city of Mecca, the broadcaster said.

His funeral is to be held on Friday.

So far, there has been no official comment from Tunisia or Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, Ben Ali had been transferred to a hospital in Saudi Arabia due to an unspecified illness.

He governed Tunisia for a period of 23 years, marred by massive human rights abuses and a draconian crackdown on dissent.

A 2011 uprising forced him to flee his homeland to Saudi Arabia.

He had rarely been seen in public since then.

After his toppling, Ben Ali was tried in absentia in Tunisia and given jail terms in separate cases related to protester deaths in the 2011 revolt and corruption when he was in power.

Born in September 1936 in Tunisia's coastal city of Hammamm Sousse, Ben Ali trained at military academies in France and the US.

In November 1987, he seized power after a bloodless coup against his predecessor Habib Bourguiba.

Ben Ali's death comes days after Tunisia held its second democratic presidential election since his ouster.

Tunisia was the birthplace of the 2010-11 Arab Spring Revolts that also saw the toppling of dictators in Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

Australian Associated Press