‘Orchestrated coup’ not uprising ousted Ben Ali, claims ex-Tunisian dictator’s wife

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Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila are seen in Rades, outside Tunis, marking the 20th anniversary of Ben Ali's presidency in this file photo. Tunisia is also seeking the arrest of Ben Ali's wife, Leila, as well as other family members. Photo - Hassene Dridi/AP

Former Tunisian dictator’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s wife claimed her husband was ousted in an “orchestrated” coup while offering “sincere condolences” to the people who died during the uprising. The former first lady also told French daily Le Parisien that her partner is ready to face a trial in his homeland provided it is ‘fair’.

Ben Ali, along with his wife, was provided sanctuary by Saudi Arabia after protests swept Tunisia on 17 December, 2010. He fled the country on 14 January, 2011, and faces a jail sentence of decades for the killing of hundreds of protesters in the central towns where the uprising began.

“I wouldn’t describe them as protests,” Leila Trabelsi told Le Parisien in an interview published on Sunday.

“For me it was an orchestrated, masterminded and planned coup d’etat, but I don’t know who led it,” the Tunisian former first lady said adding that she did not believe “at all” it had been a spontaneous revolution born out of youth frustration.

The interview was carried out via Skype from Ben Ali’s secret location in Saudi Arabia, the French newspaper disclosed.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly refused to handover the former hairdresser-turned-dictator, whose lavish lifestyle and clique of wealthy relatives became symbols of authoritarian rule.

The former president has also been charged with crimes ranging from corruption to torture.

Trabelsi rubbished accusations that her husband had ordered the slaughter of over 300 people during last year’s uprisings.

The Islamist-led government’s refusal to allow telephone recordings between Ben Ali and the defense and interior ministries to be handed over as evidence has also come under scrutiny. The former iron lady demanded the recordings to be made public.

Le Parisien claimed the 75-year-old had briefly shown himself behind his wife during the interview wearing a white polo shirt.

Trabelsi admitted there could have been more political freedom during her husband’s rule. She also read a message from the former dictator saying he regretted Tunisians had forgotten that under his 23-year-rule the country had modernised and everybody had seen their standard of living improve.

“We are ready to face justice as soon as it is fair and without excesses or favours,” said Trabelsi, whose book “My Truth” was released last week.

“Sadly, that is not the case today.”

Speaking of events on the day they left the country, she insisted that at no point had they envisaged “leaving for good” and claimed that they travelled to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage to “let things calm down.”

“My husband was already at the airport and (security chief) Ali Seriati did everything to convince him to leave even though he didn’t want to. We had no luggage, money or passports,” she said.

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