Tunis - A Tunisian court sentenced ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in absentia, to life in prison for presiding over the bloody protest crackdown that ignited the Arab Spring.
Former interior minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem and several more of Ben Ali's inner circle on Wednesday received sentences of up to 15 years in prison, but other key figures saw their charges dismissed, much to the anger of victims' families.
Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Ben Ali -- who fled after his ouster and is living in exile in Saudi Arabia over the killing of 22 people while clamping down on the central cities of Thala and Kasserine.
"We tried to hand down a fair verdict, and nobody put any pressure on us. We were only guided by God and our own personal conviction," civilian judge Chokri Mejri said at the end of the six-month trial in Kef, west of Tunis.
The court drew angry cries from victims' families outside when it dropped charges against 10 officials, including former presidential guard chief Ali Seriati and the former director of Tunisia's riot police, Moncef Laajimi.