Trial resumes of relatives of Tunisia`s Ben Ali

The 14 men and nine women on trial deny the charges.

Tunis: Prosecutors on Wednesday demanded harsh
punishments for 23 relatives and allies of Tunisia`s ousted
president accused of trying to illegally flee the country with
jewels and cash at the climax of January`s revolt.

There was tight security at the Tunis court, where
defence lawyers asked judge Faouzi Jbeli to dismiss the
charges in a case that has been keenly watched amid anger over
abuses during Zine El Abidine Ben Ali`s 23 years in power.

Most of those in the dock, who include sisters and
nephews of Ben Ali`s wife Leila Trabelsi, were arrested as
they were going to board a plane on January 14, the day the
former presidential couple fled to Saudi Arabia.

The 14 men and nine women on trial deny the charges. They
face six months to five years in prison and heavy fines,
according to judicial sources.

Among those charged is Ben Ali`s presidential security
chief, General Ali Seriati, accused of helping the group to
leave, including with false passports and large amounts of
Tunisian dinars, foreign currency and jewels.

A senior police colonel told reporters Monday that
Seriati had ordered police to allow the group to fly out, but
he had made the decision to arrest them.

They were stopped on a bus on the airport tarmac that was
headed to a plane, said Colonel Samir Tarhouni from the
Anti-Terrorist Brigade (BAT).

"He should not only be found innocent, but raised to the
ranks of the heroes of the revolution," Seriati`s lawyer
Abdelkrim Kahloul told the court, prompting heckles from the

Abada Kefi, another defence lawyer, said "Seriati is
an innocent and honest man, who was arrested arbitrarily."

Handcuffed and visibly weakened, Seriati also faces a
separate trial for more serious allegations of plotting
against internal state security and provoking disorder.

His son Samir, a pilot who attended the hearing, said
that Seriati was the victim of a show trial and that his
father often complained privately about the abuses of the
ousted regime.


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