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TUNIS: A military court is set to hand down a verdict for ousted strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, charged over the deaths of 22 anti-government protesters during Tunisia’s January 2011 revolution.
Living in exile in Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali is being tried in absentia along with 22 co-accused, including two former interior ministers, for the killings in the north- western towns of Thala and Kasserine.
The court has been mulling the verdict for the past week after a six-month trial that has embittered the victims’ families, convinced they will never know the truth about the killings.
Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for 23 years, faces the death penalty for voluntary homicide or complicity in the deaths, while the military prosecutor has requested “the toughest penalties possible” – life imprisonment, according to lawyers – for his co-defendants.
The victims’ families and their supporters say the trial of the exiled Ben Ali is no more than a smokescreen, a populist ploy aimed at veiling the truth and appeasing the plaintiffs.
They fear the truth will never come out about who gave the orders to fire on demonstrators in a crackdown that left about 600 wounded in addition to the 22 dead.
“We don’t want pity,” said Helmi Chniti, whose brother Ghassen was killed in Thala on January 8, 2011.
“I’ve devoted all my time for the past year-and-a-half to uncover the truth, and today there are still burning questions with no answers.”
Those who died in Thala and Kasserine were among more than 330 Tunisians who were killed during the popular uprising sparked when a vegetable seller set himself ablaze over ill-treatment by the police on December 17, 2010.
Defendants at the trial in Kef have pinned responsibility on a “security monitoring cell” or “the operations room” of the interior ministry – without ever naming names.
The defence, for its part, has asserted that the trial has proceeded correctly.
“We have been heard, we have been able to argue properly,” said Sami Bargaoui, who has asked for the dismissal of charges against his client, Moncef Laajimi, the prominent former director of anti-riot police. – Sapa-AFP