France has had no asylum request from Tunisia's Ben Ali

14th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ousted Tunisian strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali has not asked for asylum in France and Paris will consult Tunisia's "constitutional authorities" if he does, the foreign ministry said Friday.

As Tunisia's former colonial power, France enjoyed close ties with Ben Ali's authoritarian regime, and has been criticised for being slow to criticise his bloody crackdown on the wave of social protests that erupted last month.

But the indications Friday were that France would be unwilling to provide its former ally with a bolthole, now that he has lost power at home.

The French ministry made the statement as Ben Ali was thought to be flying somewhere between his homeland -- which he had fled earlier in the day -- and Europe, and amid rumours that he might head for Paris.

"France has received no request to welcome Mr Ben Ali. If such a request was made France would make its response in agreement with the constitutional Tunisian authorities," it said.

France had earlier "taken note" of the change of leadership in Tunisia, where Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced that he had taken over as interim head of state amid violent protests against Ben Ali's rule.

At Le Bourget airport just outside Paris a small group of Tunisians turned out to protest following rumours that it was to receive Ben Ali, who held their homeland in an iron grip for 23 years.

There was an increased police presence, but senior officers and local officials told AFP they had received no indication that an arrival was likely.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said simply that it had no news that Ben Ali was likley to arrive.

© 2011 AFP

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