Fallen Tunisian autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali dies

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Ben Ali and his wife Leila mark the 20th anniversary of Ben Ali's presidency, in Rades, outside Tunis in 2007. (AP)
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Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali waves to supporters after he took the oath at the national assembly in Tunis November 12, 2009. (Reuters)
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Ben Ali welcomes Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat prior to their talks in Tunis in 2001. (AP)
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President Bush shakes hands with Ben Ali in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington in 2004. (AP)
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Former Tunisian President Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba (R) shakes hands with his then prime minister Ben Ali (L) in 1986. (AFP)
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Ben Ali waves to the crowd upon arrival in Rades stadium where he delivered his speech on the 50th anniversary of independence of Tunisia from France in 2006. (AFP)
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Ben Ali (C) is greeted by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak as he arrives at the EU-Mediterranean summit in Paris, July 13, 2008. (Reuters)
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Ben Ali poses for an official picture in front of the Tunisian flag in 1988. (AFP)
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Ben Ali meets Libya's leader Muammar Qaddafi as they pose for a family photo during the third European Union-Africa summit in Tripoli in 2010. (Reuters)
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Children welcome Tunisian President Ben Ali in 2008 as he arrives to a meeting marking the 21st anniversary of his accent to power in Tunis. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Fallen Tunisian autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali dies

  • Ben Ali was the first of several Arab leaders to be driven from power during regional uprisings
  • Ben Ali ruled the North African country from 1987 until 2011

TUNIS: Former Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died on Thursday in Saudi Arabia.
"We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago," Tunisia's foreign ministry said, without giving further details.
The 83-year-old's lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, confirmed the news, citing family members and Ben Ali's doctor.
Ben Ali, who ruled his North African country from 1987 until 2011, was viewed by some as a bulwark against extremism, but faced criticism for muzzling the opposition and his reluctance to embrace democracy.
Eventually, growing frustration over unemployment and high prices snapped.
In late 2010, after a young trader died when he set himself on fire, protests erupted across the country and sparked a deadly clampdown.
Ben Ali fled Tunisia on Jan. 14, 2011 and sought exile in Saudi Arabia.
His rapid departure sparked a string of similar uprisings across the region, toppling Egyptian and Libyan strongmen Hosni Mubarak and Moamer Qaddafi.
The turmoil triggered what was to become Syria's devastating eight-year war.
In mid-2012, Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia to life in jail for his role in the deaths of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.
Ben Ali is survived by six children; three daughters by a first marriage and two daughters and a son by Leila Trabelsi.

Lebanon MPs call for extra security

Updated 37 min 6 sec ago

Lebanon MPs call for extra security

  • Violent protests and clashes greet Hassan Diab government as budget talks loom

BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s new government gets down to business, MPs’ biggest concern seems to be their own security.

In the wake of violent protests in the past week, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday asked Lebanese army chief, Gen. Joseph Aoun, to take “exceptional measures” to protect the parliament’s surroundings.

The plea to beef up security follows clashes outside the Lebanese parliament and the burning of a photograph of new Prime Minister Hassan Diab near the government’s headquarters.

Almost 500 people were injured in Beirut at the weekend after security personnel fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at demonstrators who threw stones, attempted to invade the Parliament building, and attacked bank offices and shops.

The formation of a new government ends months of political deadlock and economic decline following Saad Hariri’s resignation as prime minister in October in response to mass protests over corruption and mismanagement.

With the country facing growing unrest, the rising levels of violence represent a stern test for the new government as it completes a ministerial handover.

Parliamentary guards were busy this week erecting concrete walls on roads leading to the parliament.

One military official told Arab News that “safe passage” will be restricted to MPs to prevent a repetition of Nov. 19 clashes when protesters blocked access to the parliament.

Parliament is due to meet on Monday and Tuesday to approve a draft budget for 2020.

Shops and businesses facing the parliament’s entrance and access points have borne the brunt of violent protests in recent days.

A manager at a Rolex outlet said: “We haven’t decided to close the shop completely yet. We are living day by day. During the day, everything is normal, there’s traffic and people, but in the afternoon, protesters take over. We hide the merchandise in a safe place, close the shop, and leave. Today, we decided to cover the glass fronts with steel plates so that they won’t be destroyed by protesters.”

Protesters used petrol bombs as well as firecrackers for the first time on Wednesday night, according to security personnel.

Jan Kubis, the UN special coordinator in Lebanon, tweeted that some protesters were attempting to “provoke the security forces, undermine civil peace and fuel sectarian strife.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Lebanon will face a terrible financial crisis in the coming weeks. We are ready to intervene and provide support, but only to a government committed to reform.

“This is important to the US, but if you look at the protests taking place in Beirut and in cities outside Beirut, you can see, just like in Baghdad, they are not protesting against America, these are protests calling for sovereignty and freedom. The protests taking place in Lebanon today are to tell Hezbollah: Enough is enough.”

The EU described the formation of the Lebanese government as a “fundamental step toward ensuring the country’s ability to address the multiple crises affecting it.” It also urged the government to implement “structural reforms to answer the needs and the expectations of the Lebanese people. Adequate protection must be ensured for the most vulnerable groups in society.”

Ralph Tarraf, EU envoy to Lebanon, said: “We are ready to positively commit to assisting the government if it implements constructive reforms that can improve the government’s performance.”