Tunisia issues arrest warrant for Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (VIDEO)


Officials in Tunisia say they have issued an international arrest warrant for deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and members of his family, as protests continued in the capital against the remnants of his regime.

Tunisian Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi said the warrant was based on several charges, including carrying weapons and ammunition in Tunisia without licenses, maintaining and exporting foreign currency illegally, and inciting armed violence between Tunisians, CNN reported.

Chebbi said some family members have been arrested and others are still at large, and that others could be arrested as the investigation continues, including a billionaire member of the former ruling family now living in Canada, Belhassen Trabelsi.

The announcement came as riot police clashed with protesters in the capital, Tunis, and the country's interim leaders prepared to reshuffle the government. An interim government was formed after Ben Ali's departure, and protesters are demanding that none of those in the new government should have links to Ben Ali's regime.

Government officials have insisted that only those members of the old ruling party who have the experience necessary to guide the country to free elections in six months have been retained. 

The warrant for Ben Ali's arrest has been sent to Interpol. Interpol, the international police agency, confirmed that its National Central Bureau in Tunis had issued a global alert "to seek the location and arrest Ben Ali and six of his relatives."

Meanwhile, Switzerland announced that it has blocked tens of millions of dollars in funds connected to the Ben Ali family, but did not provide further details, according to The New York Times.

Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for 33 years, fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 amid mass public protests against government corruption, poor living conditions, high unemployment and repression.

The protest has emboldened people in Egypt and Algeria to stage demonstrations, many with the use of the social network Facebook, as well as Twitter.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made reference to Ben Ali's rule, saying "the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator."

Press conferences are a novelty in Tunisia, and Chebbi, the justice minister — once allied with Ben Ali — announced the warrant Wednesday in a long monologue at the head of a conference table surrounded by journalists whose subsequent questions quickly descended into a shouting match, according to the Times.

As the minister spoke, the chants of protesters calling for the release of political prisoners came in through the windows, while the families of prisoners thronged the steps to the ministry and the hall outside the room.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay announced Wednesday that "a team of top-level specialists" from her office is assembling in Tunisia, and they will officially start a week-long assessment of human rights priorities on Thursday, according to CNN. 

"Human rights abuses were at the heart of the problems faced by the people of Tunisia. Therefore, human rights must be at the forefront of the solutions to those problems," Pillay reportedly said.

Last week, Tunisia's new government interrogated 33 people associated with Ben Ali's time in office, a top official said Friday, while 1,200 others who have "spread terror among the population" had been arrested, according to Tunis Afrique Presse, or TAP.