Ben Ali ''in coma'' in Saudi hospital: family friend

Tunis, Feb 17 (AFP) Ousted Tunisian president Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali is "in a coma" in a Saudi hospital following astroke, a family friend told AFP today.

The 74-year-old former leader slipped into a coma "twodays ago" while being treated in a Jeddah hospital aftersuffering a stroke, according to the friend.

"He had a stroke, and his condition is serious," hesaid.

Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia on January14 after a popular uprising ended his 23-year grip on power inthe north African country.

Earlier, a spokesman for the interim government thatreplaced Ben Ali''s regime would neither confirm nor deny thereports that he was in hospital.

Tunisia''s Le Quotidien newspaper reported earliertoday that Ben Ali had suffered a stroke.

In Tunis, there was little sympathy on the streets forBen Ali as the news broke.

"If he dies, we''re losing a dictator and I say ''Goodriddance''," said Adel, a 50-year-old teacher. "We''re turning apage, we''ve other things to do in this country."

Amin, a 25-year-old student, had equally harshassessment. "If his death is confirmed I can only say thatGod''s punishment has been quick.

"I''m opposed to his burial in this country."

Ben Ali also suffers from prostate cancer.

Since Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14,details have gradually come to light of the extent ofcorruption under his rule.

He and his wife Leila Trabelsi, along with their innercircle, are suspected of having pocketed much of the country''swealth over the years and of taking personal stakes in much ofthe economy.

Central bank chief Mustapha Kamel Nabli said this weekthat Tunisian banks funded businesses linked to the familiesof the couple to the tune of 1.3 billion euros.

Nabli said this was the equivalent of five percent ofall financing by the Tunisian banking sector, and nearly 30percent of the cash was provided with no guarantees ofrepayment. (AFP)

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