TUNIS // Tunisia has issued an international arrest warrant for its deposed president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi and other members of the family who fled the country during an uprising, the country's justice minister, Lazhar Karoui Chebbi, said today.
Mr Chebbi told a news conference that Tunisia wanted to try Mr Ben Ali and his clan for "possessing of [expropriated] property and transferring foreign currency abroad".
He named seven members of Ben Ali's family in Tunisian custody but said that Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of Leila Trabelsi, and Sakher al Materi, Ben Ali's son-in-law, had fled abroad.
He said the name of Leila's brother. Belhassan Trabelsi .had also been presented to Interpol.
Mr Chebbi said six members of Ben Ali's presidential guard in custody, including Ali Seriati, would be tried for "conspiring against state security and inciting people against each other with weapons".
He said no legal action was in the works so far against Mr Ben Ali's interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, who led efforts to crush the uprising when it broke in late December. Mr Ben Ali fired him a few days before he fled. to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after 23 years in power.
Mr Chebbi also said that 71 prisoners died during riots before and after the fall of Mr Ben Ali, including 48 killed in a fire.
"The number of prisoners killed during recent events is 71," the minister told reporters. "Among them 48 were killed in a fire in a prison in Monastir" on January 15, the day after Mr Ben Ali's downfall, the minister said.
Tunisia's ambassador to Japan, Noureddine Hached, said on today that he had resigned from his post in solidarity with the revolution under way in his home country.
Mr Hached, whose father was assassinated in 1952 as leader of a Tunisian workers' union that sought national independence, told AFP that he had resigned on January 20 and planned to return to Tunisia by February 15.
"Duty calls me. I am taking this decision in solidarity with the Tunisian people and martyrs," he said in a letter announcing his resignation and in reference to those who died following a crackdown on protests last month.
Mr Hached, 66, is the eldest son of Farhat Hached, the founder in 1946 of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), which played an instrumental role in ousting Mr Ben Ali earlier this month.
Mr Hached was also a key figure in the resistance to France's occupation of Tunisia until his assassination in December 1952.
Mr Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 amid a wave of protests that began when a 26-year-old fruit vendor set fire himself to protest against police abuse.
Asked about his plans after returning to Tunis, Mr Hached said it was "very premature to talk about yet.
"The important thing is how to ensure that this revolution succeeds and continues to unfold in peace, as a model and a reference, as a revolution of young Tunisians to build a new Tunisia for the 21st century," he said. "It is a duty for all Tunisians to contribute today."
Officials say that 78 people were killed when security forces cracked down on a wave of protests that began last month.