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Ben Ali family members arrive in Canada

January 23, 2011

Youths gather around candles in Tunis, Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011. Tunisians began three days of mourning Friday, lowering flags and broadcasting recitations of the Quran to mourn dozens who died in the protests that drove their autocratic leader from power. – AP Photo

MONTREAL: Relatives of Tunisia’s ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali have arrived in Canada, a government official in Ottawa told AFP on Saturday.

The official confirmed, without offering details, a report in Le Journal de Quebec, which said one of Ben Ali’s many brothers-in-law arrived in Montreal Friday morning aboard a private jet accompanied by his wife, their children and a governess.

Ben Ali’s wife Leila Trabelsi has several brothers, and neither source specified which one had arrived in Canada. The family reportedly checked into a hotel in Montreal.

An official at Citizenship and Immigration Canada said Ottawa was not offering asylum to Ben Ali’s family.

“Mr. Ben Ali, deposed members of the former Tunisian regime and their immediate families are not welcome in Canada,” said spokesman Douglas Kellam, who declined to comment on any specific cases for privacy reasons.

“Anyone entering Canada must pass a number of tests. In the case of Tunisians, they must have a valid visa issued by the government of Canada.”

The official added that visas “are only issued by our officers when they are satisfied that the individual will leave Canada once the visa expires.

“Given that members of the regime cannot return to Tunisia, that would be challenge.”

The news of the arrivals drew protests from Tunisians in Montreal, many of who had demonstrated in Canada against the former regime.

“These people need to answer for their actions before Tunisians, in Tunisia,” said Sonia Djelidi, a member of a group organizing protests.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia earlier this month after weeks of violent protests against his iron-fisted 23-year rule.

The protests were in part fueled by widespread allegations of corruption and reports that Ben Ali’s family members, particularly his wife’s relatives, had gorged themselves on state funds at a time of economic hardship.

The deposed president’s daughter Nesrine Ben Ali and her husband, businessman Sakher El Materi, purchased a $2.5-million villa in the upscale Westmount neighborhood of Montreal two years ago.

The house is currently uninhabited and partially under construction. On Thursday, Tunisian authorities arrested 33 members of Ben Ali's family who were under investigation for plundering the nation’s resources.

The European Union has agreed in principle to freeze the assets of Ben Ali and his family, a source in Brussels told AFP earlier this week, though the final details were still to be worked out.

The Swiss government had earlier ordered a freeze on any funds held by Ben Ali in a move aimed at helping the countrys new authorities to retrieve public assets illicitly taken from the country.