The former Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is in a coma in hospital in Saudi Arabia after suffering a stroke two days ago, according to French agencies.
The 74-year-old, who fled to Saudi Arabia last month after a people’s uprising, was said to be in a grave condition. His decision to flee Tunisia for the Red Sea city of Jeddah on 14 January was a victory for the month-long revolution and helped spread a mood of uprising across the Arab world.
Obsessed with presenting a youthful, healthy face to the nation, the ageing despot had long refused to allow any photographs to be taken of him except official portraits which airbrushed out his wrinkles. Under the heavy censorship of the regime, newspapers were only allowed one approved photograph and could not change it except to make his dyed hair look blacker.
French journalist and Tunisia expert Nicolas Beau reported that Ben Ali had been admitted to a Saudi hospital favoured by the royal family but had been registered under a false name for security reasons. He said that Tunisia’s interim president had been informed of Ben Ali’s predicament two days ago.
French media reported that Ben Ali’s wife Leila, whose lavish consumption made her a hate figure in Tunisia, was not at her husband’s side and might be in Libya.
The EU has frozen the assets of Ben Ali and his family as Tunisia investigates the alleged corruption of the ruling family and toppled regime. Guardian