A court sentenced ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in absentia to life in prison and his security chiefs to up to 20 years on Wednesday over the deaths of protesters during the revolution that launched the Arab Spring.

Former Interior Minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem was sentenced to 15 years in jail and Ben Ali's security chief Ali Seriati was given 20 years over the killing of protesters in the capital Tunis and the towns of Sousse, Nabeul, Bizerte and Zaghouan as a popular uprising spread through the country early last year. Ben Ali fled with his family to Saudi Arabia.

They were among 40 officials of the old regime in the North African country to receive sentences between five and 20 years over the killings. Ahmed Friaa, who was named interior minister shortly before Ben Ali fled on January 14, 2011, was among three officials who had charges against them dropped.

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