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Tunisia's Ben Ali sentenced to life in prison for protester deaths


Combination picture from file photos shows Tunisia's President Zine Abidine Ben Ali and Tunisia's Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem in Tunis in 2009.

A Tunisian military court has sentenced ousted leader Zine Abidine Ben Ali to life in prison -- albeit in absentia, as Ben Ali and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia as protests swept the country. He was found guilty of for his role in the deaths of hundreds of protesters.

Another military court sentenced Ben Ali to 20 years for inciting violence and murder, BBC reported.

Ben Ali is unlikely to be extradited soon as Saudis have refused to send him back. Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Ben Ali, AFP reported.

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The military court also sentenced Ben Ali's interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem and seven security chiefs to up to 15 years for the deaths of more than 300 people in the January 2011 uprising. The uprising triggered the Arab Spring, launching revolutions across the Middle East.

"The verdict is unjust. The sentences are light, these sentences have been affected by political pressure," Chardedine Glail, the lawyer representing the families of the victims, told Reuters. "The court has fallen into a trap."

"How can Ben Ali get life when he is charged with a role in the deaths, whereas Kacem gets 12 years when he is charged with killing?" she said.

The sentences come as the capital Tunis is seeing some of the worst confrontations since last year's revolt ousted Ben Ali and launched uprisings across the Arab world. Tuesday, protesters hurled petrol bombs at officers, blocked streets and set tires alight in the capital's working class Ettadamen and Sidi Hussein districts.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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