Tunisia's Ben Ali, wife seek 'justice' back home

AFP , Sunday 1 Jul 2012

The revile wife of Tunisia's Ben Ali, Leila Ben Ali, says her life is devoted to charity and social work in the first interview since the couple fled to Saudi Arabia after a popular uprising in January 2011

Leila Ben Ali. (Photo: Reuters)

Leila Ben Ali, the reviled wife of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said both the deposed Tunisian dictator and her hoped for "justice" in an interview published by French daily Le Parisien on Sunday.

In the first interview since the couple fled to Saudi Arabia after a popular uprising in January last year that sparked the Arab Spring protests, she also said her husband wanted Tunisians to recognise his achievements.

While "firmly" denying the charges against her, Leila Ben Ali -- who was sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison in June last year for stealing public funds and another 15 years a month later for illegal possession of weapons and drugs -- said she was "sorry" for any possible mistakes she may have made.

"I don't involve myself in politics," she said. "My daily life is devoted to charity and social work. Apart from that I help my loved ones to live better, that's true," she said.

"I never wanted to harm anyone," she said.

Ben Ali, meanwhile, issued an appeal to his countrymen in a message relayed through his wife.

"I deplore the fact that people have forgotten that for 23 years their lives improved greatly ... and Tunisia became a modern country. I hope that my compatriots will render me justice by remembering the journey we undertook together."

"I hope that in the twilight of my life I will retain my honour."

Leila Ben Ali said: "We are ready to face trial in our country if it is fair and without excess or favour", but added: "For the present, there is nothing but hatred and vengeance."

The 55-year-old -- dubbed the "Queen of Carthage" and reputed to have a voracious appetite for power and money had admitted that the flashy lifestyle of her Trabelsi clan -- which had a stranglehold on business in the country -- played a large part in ending Ben Ali's 23-year rule.

Their control over the north African country's economy was vast and they were said to have stakes in banks, airlines, car dealerships, radio and television stations and big retailers.

In a book entitled "My Truth" and released last month, she said: "Among my own, there were some who exaggerated -- often the younger ones who freely indulged in their appetite for profits and refused to set limits."

"These weaknesses and errors of my family were amplified outside and used with the sole objective of bringing down the regime of Ben Ali... We were the Achilles heel of the president."

A Tunisian court has sentenced Ben Ali, in absentia, to life in prison for presiding over the bloody crackdown on the protests against his regime.

He faces countless trials and has already been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on a range of charges including drug trafficking and embezzlement.

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