France will not host Tunisia's Ben Ali: officials

14th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

France does not want Tunisia's ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to seek a bolthole on its territory, officials said Friday, amid reports that he was in a plane fleeing his homeland.

The foreign ministry formally confirmed Ben Ali had not asked for asylum -- and said it would consult Tunisia's "constitutional authorities" if he did -- and a government source said he was not welcome.

"We don't want him to come, there's no chance he'll be allowed to land," a source close to government thinking told AFP, amid rumours that Ben Ali's executive jet was Europe bound.

The source said Paris did not want to risk upsetting its large population of Tunisian immigrants and French citizens of Tunisian origin, saying: "There are a million Tunisians in France, most of them anti-Ben Ali."

As Tunisia's former colonial power, France enjoyed close ties with Ben Ali's authoritarian regime, and was accused of 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 issued 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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