In Summary
  • Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January 2011 as his compatriots rose up against his oppressive rule in a revolution.
  • A former security chief, Ben Ali had run Tunisia for 23 years, taking power when, as prime minister in 1987.
  • On the few occasions his rule was put to the vote, he faced only nominal opposition and won re-election by more than 99 per cent.

TUNIS 

Former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died Thursday in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia's foreign ministry said. He was 83.

"We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago," the ministry said, without giving further details.

His lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, confirmed the news, citing family members and Ben Ali's doctor.

Ben Ali, who ruled his North African country from 1987 until 2011, was viewed by some as a bulwark against Islamist extremism, but faced criticism for muzzling the opposition and his reluctance to embrace democracy.

Eventually, growing frustration over unemployment and high prices snapped.

In late 2010, the self-immolation of a young trader sparked major protests that rocked the country and sparked a deadly clampdown.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011.

His rapid departure sparked a string of similar uprisings across the region, toppling Egyptian and Libyan strongmen Hosni Mubarak and Moamer Kadhafi.

The turmoil triggered what was to become Syria's devastating eight-year war.

In mid-2012, Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia to life in jail for his role in the deaths of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.

Little information has emerged on his life in exile.

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