Tunisia's Ben Ali guilty on drugs and gun charges

File photo (2009) of then Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila in Carthage, near Tunis Ben Ali's wife Leila played a key role during his 23 years in power

Tunisia's ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been convicted on charges of possessing illegal drugs and weapons after a one-day trial in Tunis.

He was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail.

Ben Ali and his wife Leila were last month sentenced to 35 years in prison for embezzlement and misuse of state funds.

He fled to Saudi Arabia in January following weeks of protests - the first leader be ousted in the "Arab Spring".

Saudi Arabia has so far failed to extradite Ben Ali, despite a request by Tunisia's new interim government.

In court, his lawyer, Hosni Beji, described the drugs and gun-running charges as "irrational".

'Mediocre cannabis'

He said he had a list of witnesses to prove Ben Ali never owned or kept drugs.

"How can we imagine that a president holding power can have two kilogrammes of cannabis resin of mediocre quality [with intentions] of selling it," the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

Start Quote

You have betrayed Tunisia by defending Ben Ali”

End Quote Protesters in court

Mr Beji also said most of the weapons found at Ben Ali's palace after he fled were gifts from foreign leaders.

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ben Abdel Aziz gave Ben Ali weapons, Mr Beji said, AFP reports.

Reuters news agency reports that members of the public in the courtroom heckled Ben Ali's lawyers, shouting: "Get out! You have betrayed Tunisia by defending Ben Ali!" and "You should have defended the young people killed by Ben Ali's weapons!"

'Parody of justice'

Ben Ali's lawyers walked out of the courtroom after the judge refused their request to delay the case so that they had more time to prepare their defence.

The case was due to have started last week, but was postponed because of a strike by judges.

Ben Ali and his wife Leila were last month also fined $66m (£41m) for embezzling and misappropriating public funds.

Ben Ali described that one-day trial as a "parody of justice".

He is also being investigated on suspicion of murder and abuse of power.

He ruled Tunisia for more than 20 years, before being ousted in a popular uprising that spread across North Africa and the Middle East.

His critics say his rule was marred by widespread human rights abuses and a lack of democracy.

His supporters say Tunisia was stable during his rule.

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