Tunisia PM: ailing former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali can return

Youssef Chahed responds to reports that 83-year-old deposed leader is in 'critical condition'

FILE - In this Oct.11, 2009 file photo, then Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali waves from his car as he arrives at campaign rally in Rades, outside Tunis. A lawyer for the former Tunisian president ousted in the 2011 Arab Spring says Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been hospitalized in Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi, File)

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has said that the deposed former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali would be allowed to return the country if he was critically ill as reported by his lawyer.

"I will give my green light for his return. It's a humanitarian case. If he's ill as rumoured, he can return to his country like any other Tunisian," Mr Chahed said late on Thursday on Hannibal TV.

"If he wants to return to be buried here, I give my green light," he said.

Mr Chahed's decision comes ahead of Tunisia presidential election on Sunday in which he is one of the candidates.

Speaking to Tunisian radio stations, lawyer Mounir ben Salha said earlier that Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia after the 2011 uprising that ended more than two decades of his rule, was in "critical condition".

He said Ben Ali's daughter had called him to say the 83-year-old former president was "very sick" after years of treatment for prostate cancer.

"He's not dead but the condition of his health is bad. He has left hospital and is being treated at home. His condition is stable," Mr Ben Salha said.

Ben Ali was convicted in absentia to several prison terms for corruption-related violations.

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