Arab leaders due in Tunisia for Ben Ali ouster anniversary
TUNIS - Heads of state from Tunisia's neighbours as well as other Arab leaders are expected to take part in weekend celebrations to mark the toppling of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, government sources said Thursday.
The Tunisian president fled his country to Saudi Arabia a year ago on Saturday after weeks of a popular uprising against his iron-fisted rule, dire unemployment and rising consumer prices.
The revolution, which led to a peaceful election in October, inspired the so-called Arab Spring that felled long-standing autocrats Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Moamer Gathafi in Libya.
Among the most prominent guests expected in Tunis on Saturday, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika -- who was a minister in his country's first post-independence government half a century ago -- has so far weathered growing social discontent.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, seen as one of the main sponsors of the Arab Spring, is also expected in the Tunisian capital.
Foreign Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani will represent Morocco, where King Mohamed VI introduced reforms curbing his near absolute powers to nip growing Tunisian-inspired street protests in the bud.
Weeks after Ben Ali hurriedly flew out of Tunisia, a rebellion started in neighbouring Libya, eventually toppling Gathafi's regime and installing the National Transitional Council (NTC).
The head of the NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was expected in Tunis on Saturday for the celebrations, for which no detailed programme has yet been released.
Thousands of Tunisians celebrated the uprising's first anniversary on December 17, the day 26-year-old fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the protest act that sparked the revolt.
Ben Ali has been convicted of economic and other crimes by Tunisian courts and was granted exile in Saudi Arabia after his plane was denied permission to land in France.
Tunisia's newly-installed Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, of the Islamist Ennahda party, has been officially invited to visit Saudi Arabia, the official TAP news agency reported Thursday.
According to the new authorities in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia has twice ignored extradition requests for Ben Ali, who faces an avalanche of trials if he returns.
According to a source in the ousted president's entourage, Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trablesi live in the city of Jeddah and "are becoming increasingly religious."
The source also said Ben Ali was writing his memoirs.