Tunisia Ben Ali: Trial to begin in absentia on 20 June

File photo (2009) of then Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila in Carthage, near Tunis Mr Ben Ali, seen with his wife in this photo from 2009, ruled Tunisia for 23 years

Tunisia's ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia in January, is to go on trial in absentia on 20 June.

Announcing the date, interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi said Saudi Arabia had not replied to requests to hand him over.

Charges range from conspiring against the state to drug trafficking.

A lawyer for the Mr Ben Ali, whose 23-year rule ended in mass protests, has dismissed the trial as a "masquerade".

Both the former leader and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, face charges.

His overthrow inspired protesters across the Arab world, from Egypt to Yemen.

'Sacrificial lamb'

"I am announcing it for the first time, the trial will start on the 20th," Mr Essebsi told al-Jazeera TV.

"He will be tried in a military and in a civilian court."

The Tunisian authorities say the first charges will relate to the discovery of cash, weapons and drugs in presidential palaces, AFP news agency reports.

Almost 2kg (4.4lb) of drugs, believed to be cannabis, and $27m (£16.4m; 18.7m euros) in cash were allegedly found.

The authorities are also investigating cases of murder, abuse of power, trafficking of archaeological artefacts and money laundering.

Speaking recently to AFP, Mr Ben Ali's lawyer in France, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, poured scorn on the charges.

The former leader was "tired of being made a sacrificial lamb by lies and injustice", he said.

"The searches conducted in his official and personal offices are just stage-dressing designed to discredit him," he added.

"The case that Tunisia is building against him is nothing but a masquerade which serves no purpose other than to mark a symbolic break with the past."

Several members of Mr Ben Ali's family and some of his closest allies were arrested shortly after he was forced out.

A number of European countries have also frozen assets belonging to the ex-leader.

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