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Saudi keeps blackout on ousted Tunisian president

Little information is known about how the deposed ruler is spending his time in exile

AFP, Sunday 16 Jan 2011
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Saudi Arabia on Sunday kept a total blackout on the activities of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who has fled to the Gulf state.

Officials and the media kept a lid on the presence of the deposed leader, who landed early on Saturday in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with six members of his family, according to a Saudi source.

In a palace statement later the same day, Saudi Arabia said the move was "out of concern for the exceptional circumstances facing the brotherly Tunisian people and in support of the security and stability of their country."

The kingdom will treat Ben Ali "as a political refugee, not as a head of state," prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi told the Saudi-owned and Dubai-based satellite television Al-Arabiya.

"Saudi Arabia will not allow the ousted president to make any political statements or to carry out any political activities," he said.

In Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali will not be allowed to contact anyone in Tunisia, according to the analyst, who is known for his close ties with the Saudi ruling family.

Several other leaders who found refuge in Saudi Arabia in the past were taken under the same conditions, said Abdul Aziz al-Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre.

Until his death in 2003, Uganda's ex-president Idi Amin spent more than two decades in exile in the oil-rich kingdom, while being kept away from politics and the media.

Saudi Arabia, which allows political asylum in public interest cases, also granted asylum to ex-Pakistani premier Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by Pervez Musharraf and sent into exile in 2000 before returning to his country in 2007.

"Sharif was not allowed to carry out any political activity in Saudi Arabia. When he decided to return to politics, he left Saudi Arabia," said Sager.

Tunisia's new acting president, speaker of parliament Foued Mebazaa, was sworn in on Saturday after Ben Ali resigned and fled Tunis in the wake of violent demonstrations across the North African state.

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