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TUNIS, June 20 (Reuters) - Tunisia’s ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali said on Monday he was deceived into leaving the country, and denied giving orders for security forces to shoot at protesters who were demanding he step down.
A statement issued by his lawyers said he had agreed to take a plane to Saudi Arabia to bring his family to safety, and had planned to return immediately.
But he said the aircraft left Saudi Arabia without him after the crew ignored his instructions.
Ben Ali, whose trial in absentia began on Monday, denied the charges against him of illegally possessing drugs, cash, jewellery and weapons.
He said the weapons were gifts from other heads of state and the jewellery had been given as gifts to his wife, Leila Trebelsi, by foreign dignitaries.
The money and drugs had been planted in his home and the presidential palace after his departure as part of a plot against him, he said in the statement.
Ben Ali gave his first detailed account of the events leading to his departure from Tunisia for Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, ending his 23 years in office.
At the time, thousands of protesters had gathered in the centre of the capital to demand that he step down, accusing him of stamping out dissent while allowing his family to amass huge wealth and control most of the country’s economy.
The statement said the head of presidential security had come to him in his office and told him “friendly” foreign intelligence services had passed on information about a plot to assassinate Ben Ali.
He was persuaded to board a plane which was taking his wife and children to safety in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, but with the intention of returning immediately, the statement said.
“He boarded the plane with his family after ordering the crew to wait for him in Jeddah. But after his arrival in Jeddah, the plane returned to Tunisia, without waiting for him, contrary to his orders.”
“He did not leave his post as president of the republic and hasn’t fled Tunisia as he was falsely accused of doing,” the statement said.
In a trial in a military court to be held later, Ben Ali is expected to face accusations that he ordered the police to open fire in protesters outside the capital, killing hundreds of people over a three-week period.
“He did not give an order to fire on demonstrators and this can be proved through the contacts between the presidency, interior ministry and different ministries, which are recorded,” the statement said.
Reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunis and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Michael Roddy