By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia's ousted leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali said his trial in absentia, which starts on Monday, is an attempt by the country's new rulers to distract attention from their failure to restore stability.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 after a popular uprising against his 23-year rule. Tunisia's revolution inspired uprisings in other parts of the Arab world, including a revolt in Egypt that forced out that country's long-standing leader.
Speaking through his lawyers, Ben Ali denied the charges against him and mounted a defense of his time in office, which many Tunisians say was marked by autocratic rule, corruption and abuses of human rights.
Since Ben Ali left, Tunisia's caretaker authorities have struggled to restore stability, with strikes and rioting a regular occurrence, while politicians have squabbled over how best to move the country toward democracy.
"He (Ben Ali) would like everyone to know this criminal prosecution is only a false and shameful image of victor's justice," said the statement released on Sunday by the Beirut-based law firm which is representing him.
"Is the purpose behind that (trial) to divert the attention of Tunisians from the turmoil that nobody can accuse him of or hold him responsible for?" the statement said.
"He knows that every new political authority wants to blame its predecessor and hold it responsible for difficulties it fails to resolve."
Ben Ali, 74, has stayed out of sight since he was ousted, and has to date not given a detailed account of the sequence of events that led to his leaving the country.
His lawyers said he would soon make an announcement about the circumstances of his departure.
"What interests him now is to stress that he did not flee at all. He wanted to avoid a bloody confrontation among the Tunisian people who are always in his thoughts and heart," the statement said.
Ben Ali appealed to Tunisians not to forget what he said were the achievements of his time in office.
"The state, under his supervision, managed in three decades to improve the living standards of the Tunisian people, and made Tunisia a modern country ... despite the fact that the country is still in need of further development."
"He hopes from his heart that Tunisia escapes chaos and darkness and continues on its path toward modernity," the statement said.
Tunisian authorities have been preparing several legal cases against Ben Ali, including conspiring against the state, voluntary manslaughter and drug trafficking.
Saudi authorities have not responded to a request by Tunis to extradite Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted shortly after Ben Ali, is due to stand trial in Egypt for the killing of protesters and could face the death penalty.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers and Laila Bassam in Beirut; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jan Harvey)