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Tunisia asks Saudi Arabia to extradite Ben Ali, if not dead (UPDATES) (VIDEO)

The Tunisian government claims it has "new charges against the ousted president for his implication in severe crimes."

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Tunisian protesters shout slogans and wave flags during a demonstration on Feb. 20, 2011 in Tunis. Thousands of demonstrators rallied on the streets of the Tunisian capital on Sunday calling for the resignation of Mohammed Ghannouchi's transitional government. (Fethi Belaid/Getty Images)

Tunisia's government asked Saudi Arabia on Sunday whether its exiled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was dead, and if not to extradite him.

Ben Ali, 74, fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, following a massive popular uprising that ended his 23-year rule and prompted a wave of protest against other autocratic leaders across the Arab world.

Thousands of Tunisians protested in the capital Sunday demanding that the caretaker government, led by longtime Ben Ali ally Mohamed Ghannouchi, resign.

Tunisia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it had asked Saudi Arabia to provide information "as soon as possible" whether Ben Ali's health had deteriorated or "the possibility of his death."

News reports in recent days indicated that Ben Ali was in hospital in Saudi Arabia, possibly in a coma after suffering a stroke.

The reports followed a blog posting by French journalist Nicolas Beau, who cited Tunisian sources as saying that Ben Ali was in a critical condition in a medical facility in Jeddah.

According to Radio France International, Beau said Ben Ali was admitted to the hospital Tuesday under a false name. And Reuters reported Friday that Ben Ali was in grave condition in a Saudi hospital, quoting Saudi sources.

The claim that Ben Ali was hospitalized also was reported by webzine JSSnews, although it said the ousted ruler had suffered a heart attack, according to RFI.

Ben Ali's ouster sparked a wave of ongoing protest throughout the Middle East that has reached as far as Bahrain, where a bloody crackdown was reported overnight Thursday, as well as Yemen, Libya and Iran.

Tunisia's interim government prolonged a state of emergency imposed just before president Ben Ali was toppled, and has been struggling to restore stability.

Ghannouchi, the prime minister, has vowed to hold Tunisia's first free elections within six months, declared full freedom of speech and adopted an amnesty law for those persecuted by the former regime.

The Foreign Ministry statement released Sunday and reported by the official news agency TAP asked Saudi Arabia to extradite Ben Ali following "new charges against the ousted president for his implication in severe crimes."

The charges included an alleged role that Ben Ali played in "the commissioning of and incitement to murder and the provocation of discord among the people in driving them to kill one another," The Associated Press reported.

A United Nations mission has said at least 219 people were killed in the weeks of unrest.

The new charges come after investigators also began looking into allegations that Ben Ali and his family held bank accounts and real estate in several countries, used to launder illegally obtained money.