April 19, 2011 / 7:59 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-Court frees policewoman linked to Tunisia revolt

* Policewoman was accused of slapping fruit vendor Bouazizi

* Bouazizi set himself on fire, sparking Tunisian revolt

(Adds Bouazizi’s mother quote, details)

By Tarek Amara

SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia, April 19 (Reuters) - A Tunisian court on Tuesday freed a policewoman accused of slapping a young fruit seller who then set himself on fire, an act that triggered revolution across the Arab world.

Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight on Dec. 17, saying he had been driven to despair by police who confiscated his fruit and vegetable cart. He died later in hospital.

His death triggered demonstrations which spread across Tunisia forcing President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee.

That ousting in turn inspired activists across the region who went on to unseat Egypt’s president and took to the streets in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and other countries.

Before he fled, Ben Ali tried to quell public anger by ordering the arrest of policewoman Fadia Hamdi, who was accused of slapping Bouazizi. The fruit seller’s family originally accused Hamdi of publicly humiliating their son.

But Bouazizi’s mother on Tuesday withdrew her complaint against Hamdi when the trial began in Sidi Bouzid, about 250 km (155 miles) southwest of the Tunisian capital, on Tuesday.

“It was a difficult but well-thought out decision to avoid hatred and ... (to) help reconcile the residents of Sidi Bouzid,” Tunisia’s TAP news agency quoted Bouazizi’s mother as saying.

Hundreds of people outside the court cheered as the charges were dropped, shouting “Freedom, Freedom” and saying Hamdi had been used as a scapegoat.

“I’m innocent. I did not slap him,” Hamdi herself told the court, before she was released.

“This is a purely political affair. She is innocent,” Hamdi’s lawyer Besma Nasri told Reuters.

Seeking to assert their authority and gain legitimacy in the eyes of protesters who forced Ben Ali to flee, Tunisia’s caretaker authorities are attacking the vestiges of his 23-year rule.

They renamed the main square in Tunis after Bouazizi. The square was previously November 7 Square, marking the date in 1987 when Ben Ali took power. (Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian, editing by Andrew Heavens)

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