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Tunisia judges' strike postpones Ben Ali trial to July 4

A second trial of Tunisia's ousted president, which had been due to start today, has been postponed until July 4 because of a strike by judges, the judge in the case said.

world Updated: Jun 30, 2011 15:47 IST

A second trial of Tunisia's ousted president, which had been due to start on Thursday, has been postponed until July 4 because of a strike by judges, the judge in the case said.

Judge Touhami Hafi announced the postponement of the trial against the exiled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, on charges of illegal possessions of arms and drugs, in a statement to the court in Tunis.

Hosni Beji, one of the lawyers appointed to defend Ben Ali, said he would in any case have asked for the postponement to July 4.

"In any case we haven't been able to make contact with our client who is, as you know, in Saudi Arabia."

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January at the height of the popular uprising that toppled him and Riyadh has so far ignored Tunisia's demands for his extradition.

Beji said he wanted senior figures in the new Tunisian administration to appear in court to testify.

Thursday's postponement had been expected, as judges called a three-day strike from Tuesday in protest at what they said were threats and harassment from the justice ministry even after the fall of Ben Ali's regime.

The ministry had used "low and humiliating methods", the vice president of the SMT judges' union Boubaker Souguir told reporters on Wednesday. A ministry statement rejected the claims as without foundation.

Last week, a Tunis court sentenced Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi to 35 years in prison each for misappropriating public funds, after money and jewellery were found at their palace on the outskirts of Tunis.

In the new case, the former president stands accused of drug possession and trafficking as well as weapons possession -- charges his Lebanese lawyer has dismissed as fanciful and insulting.

The weapons, says Ben Ali, were mostly gifts from foreign leaders and the two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of drugs in his office, a setup.

But last week's 35-year sentence was criticised by rights groups and commentators: the conviction was handed down after only six hours' deliberation.

A joint statement by the International Federation of Human Rights last week the Tunisian League of Human Rights and the National Council for Freedoms welcomed the convictions.

But the trial had not taken place in the best conditions and "all efforts were not made to secure Ben Ali's extradition before the opening of the trial," the statement added.

Any future trials should focus on Ben Ali's human rights violations against Tunisians -- and take place with the defendant present, it added.

Ben Ali himself denounced his June 20 conviction as a "parody of justice" and "political liquidation," in a statement issued through his Paris-based lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne.

The ex-leader and his entourage face several other trials in the coming months, some before military courts, notably for murders committed in a bid to put down the revolt.

They also face trial on charges of torture, money laundering and trafficking of archaeological artefacts.

First Published: Jun 30, 2011 15:44 IST