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Ex-Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Dies

Ex-Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali Dies

Thursday, 19 September, 2019 - 16:00
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali died Thursday at age 83, according to his lawyer.

Mounir Ben Salha said Ben Ali was being treated at the hospital when he died.

Ben Ali had run Tunisia for 23 years, taking power when, as prime minister in 1987, he declared president-for-life Habib Bourguiba medically unfit to rule, Reuters reported.

In office, he sought to stifle any form of political dissent while opening up the economy, a policy that led to rapid growth but also fueled grotesque inequality and accusations of brazen corruption, not least among his own relatives.

Ben Ali’s rise began in the army after Bourguiba won Tunisia’s independence from France in 1956.

He was head of military security from 1964, and of national security from 1977.

After a three-year stint as ambassador to Poland, he was called back to his old security job in 1984 to quell riots over bread prices. Now a general, he was made interior minister in 1986 and prime minister in 1987.

It took him less than three weeks to arrange a new promotion to the top job, bringing in a team of doctors to declare Bourguiba senile, meaning he would automatically take over as head of state.

In late 2010, after a young trader died when he set himself on fire, protests erupted across the country and sparked a deadly clampdown. Ben Ali fled Tunisia on Jan. 14, 2011.

He was sentenced in absentia to a total of more than 200 years in prison which made his return to Tunisia impossible.

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