Fallen Tunisian autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali dies

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Former Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died on Thursday in Saudi Arabia.

“We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago,” Tunisia’s foreign ministry said, without giving further details.

The 83-year-old’s 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 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, 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 and sought exile in Saudi Arabia.
His rapid departure sparked a string of similar uprisings across the region, toppling Egyptian and Libyan strongmen Hosni Mubarak and Moamer Qaddafi.

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.

Ben Ali is survived by six children; three daughters by a first marriage and two daughters and a son by Leila Trabelsi.

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