Tunisia issues arrest warrant for Ben Ali
Ousted president, relatives 'not welcome in Canada': Cannon spokesperson
Last Updated: Thursday, January 27, 2011 | 9:04 PM ET
The Associated Press
Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, accusing him of taking money out of the North African nation illegally.
Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia after being driven from power this month by violent protests, is also being charged with illegally acquiring real estate and other assets abroad, Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said Wednesday.
Tunisia is seeking the arrest of Ben Ali's wife, Leila. French media have reported that Leila left the country with millions in gold bullion. Arrest warrants were also issued for other family members.
Among them is the president's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi, who reportedly arrived in Montreal last week. Trabelsi, who has extensive business interests in Tunisia, stands accused of stealing government funds.
Tunisian groups in Canada are calling on federal authorities to freeze Trabelsi's funds and extradite him to Tunisia.
The RCMP said Wednesday that a "diffusion" or alert issued by Tunisia seeking to locate Ben Ali and six members of his family had been distributed to Interpol member countries, but does not constitute an arrest warrant under Canadian law. The RCMP added that Canadian law enforcement agencies would only become involved once an official request to investigate has been received through Interpol or another formal channel.
The RCMP referred inquiries to the Department of Foreign Affairs, which declined to comment Wednesday on whether the Tunisian government has made a request to Canada to freeze assets, adding it is a private matter between countries. But a spokesperson for the department said Canada would need to see proof that assets were acquired illegally for them to be frozen.
"Mr. Ben Ali and members of his regime are not welcome in Canada," a department spokesperson said Tuesday,
Haroun Bouazzi, a member of the expatriate Tunisian community in Montreal, told CBC News Wednesday that a lot of Tunisians in Canada are "very angry" about the situation.
He said when they heard Trabelsi and family were hiding out in a hotel somewhere in Montreal's West Island area, some went from hotel to hotel trying to find them. Bouazzi hopes Canadian authorities find them first.
"I hope nobody will find them in the street," he said, "because … I want these people to get back to Tunisia and to face fair justice in Tunisia to bring back all this money they stole."
The CBC's Justin Hayward reported Wednesday that a diplomatic cable from a former U.S. ambassador to Tunisia made clear why Trabelsi is so hated. The cable, released by WikiLeaks, described the Trabelsi family in mafia-like terms and said they provoke the greatest anger among Tunisians.
Range of options
There is a range of options that would allow Canada to freeze assets of members of the ousted regime here, including through the United Nations or at the request of a foreign government, the spokesperson said.
"Our government is prepared to work with the UN or the government of Tunisia to apply such a freeze. We will use all tools at our disposal to address this situation, in cooperation with the international community."
Added Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, "This is a historic moment in the Middle East. This is a historic moment, I hope, in the history of democracy."
Ben Ali, his wife and their clan have been widely accused of abusing their power to enrich themselves: In France, where family members are believed to have assets ranging from apartments to racehorses, the Paris prosecutors' office has opened a preliminary investigation into their holdings.
The former president fled Jan. 14 after 23 years in power, pushed out by weeks of protests driven by anger over joblessness, repression and corruption. His swift departure was followed by riots, looting and unrest.Protesters evacuate a wounded demonstrator after clashes in Tunis on Wednesday in front of the prime minister's office as the caretaker government prepared to announce adjustments to its lineup. (Rafael Yaghobzadeh/Associated Press)
On Wednesday, the justice minister released figures that highlighted the massive scope of that unrest: Some 11,029 prisoners, about a third of the country's prison population, were able to escape amid the chaos, he said. Of those, 1,532 prisoners have returned behind bars, he said. Another 74 prisoners died in fires that broke out at several prisons.
Chebbi spoke to reporters as Tunisian police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters who have been pressuring the interim government to get rid of old guard ministers who served under Ben Ali. The clashes broke out in front of the prime minister's office in Tunis, the capital. Acrid clouds of tear gas engulfed hundreds of people, and some demonstrators responded by throwing stones at police.
The state news agency TAP said officials are to announce changes to the interim government later Wednesday. The acting premier must replace five ministers who quit their posts, echoing protesters' concerns.
The caretaker government includes some former opposition leaders, but many top posts, including prime minister and the ministers of defence, foreign affairs and the interior, were retained by Ben Ali cronies.
Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, who took that post in 1999 under Ben Ali and has kept it through the upheaval, has vowed to quit politics after elections in the coming months. But he insists he needs to stay on for now to guide Tunisia through a transition to democracy.With files from CBC
Latest Montreal News Headlines
- Montreal lifts boil-water advisory
- Mayor Michael Applebaum has given Montrealers the green light to drink their tap water, saying it's safe to drink. He says if it's still discoloured, let the taps run for a few minutes. more »
- Relaunch of Highway 19 extension to be announced today
- Quebec's provincial government is reportedly going ahead with the long-awaited extension of Highway 19, north of Montreal. more »
- Laval police seize drugs, assault weapon
- Laval police made a major drug and weapons bust on Wednesday, seizing ecstasy powder, cocaine, cannabis, cash, and an automatic assault weapon. more »
- Alleged sexual predator's victims sought by Montreal police
- Montreal Police are asking the public for help finding young victims of an alleged sexual predator. more »
Top News Headlines
- Rob Ford allies set to take over if mayor steps down
- Members of Rob Ford's executive committee say they are prepared to take over the day-to-day running of the city if the Toronto mayor is no longer able to perform his duties, amid a scandal involving allegations he was caught on video smoking crack cocaine. more »
- Greg Weston: Senate scandal may be Harper's worst hour
- The widening Senate scandal that the prime minister flippantly tried to dismiss as a 'distraction' just days ago has instead become arguably Stephen Harper's worst hour. more »
- Man ‘lucky to be alive’ after Washington bridge collapse
- A Washington state bridge over a river collapsed last night, dumping two vehicles into the water and sparking a rescue effort by boats and divers who searched the chilly waterway north of Seattle. more »
- Canada ranks 3rd last in paid vacations
- Canada ranks third last among economically advanced counties in the amount of paid vacation time it guarantees its workers, a new U.S. study indicates. more »
- 3D printers give rise to 'desktop manufacturing'
- Customizable objects from plastic dollhouse furniture to medical prosthetics can now be designed and printed out by almost anyone at the press of a button, and is going to lead to an 'explosion of new stuff,' predicts author Chris Anderson. more »
- Montreal lifts boil-water advisory
- PQ wants to force federally regulated firms to abide by French language charter
- Former premier among growing list of politicians offered cash in Laval
- 1.3 million Montrealers face boil water advisory
- PQ polling woes continue
- 23-year-old woman dies while surfing near LaSalle
- Supreme Court refuses to hear Lise Thibault's appeal
- Woman injured after falling on Montreal metro tracks
- Taking a look at graffiti tagging hotspots in Montreal