News24xx.com - Former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died Thursday in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia's foreign ministry told AFP. He was 83.
"We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago," the ministry said on Thursday afternoon without giving further details.
His lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, confirmed the news, citing family members and Ben Ali's doctor.
Ben Ali, who ruled his North African country from 1987 until 2011, was viewed by some as a bulwark against Islamist extremism, but faced criticism for muzzling the opposition and his reluctance to embrace democracy.
Eventually, growing frustration over unemployment and high prices snapped.
In late 2010, a young trader in Sidi Bouzid, in the impoverished centre of the country, set fire to himself in protest at humiliation by police.
That sparked protests which rocked Tunisia and triggered a deadly clampdown.
But the protesters won: on January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia.
His rapid departure sparked a string of similar uprisings across the region, toppling Egyptian and Libyan strongmen Hosni Mubarak and Moamer Kadhafi.
The turmoil also triggered what was to become Syria's devastating eight-year war.