A Tunisian court has sentenced ousted Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to life in prison for his role in the killing of protesters during last year's uprising that triggered Arab Spring demonstrations across the Middle East.
The court in Kef sentenced the former leader in absentia Wednesday because he is living in exile in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has so far refused to hand over Ben Ali and his wife to Tunisian officials.
The court also sentenced Ben Ali's interior minister, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, to at least 12 years in prison over the killing of protesters during last year's unrest.
The Tunisian revolution that started in December 2010 forced the autocratic leader to flee the country about a month later. It sparked popular movements across much of the Middle East and North Africa in what soon became known as the "Arab Spring." Protesters in Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya have defied autocratic rulers and called for reforms.
Wednesday's verdict in Tunisia came as its government blamed "extremist groups" for several days of rioting.
The violence earlier this week, which was the worst since Ben Ali's departure, was apparently triggered by an art exhibit in Tunis that spelled out the name of God with a string of insects, outraging ultraconservative Salafist Muslims.
The rioting in the Tunisian capital left one person dead and dozens wounded, and sparked clashes across the country.