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May 27, 10:27 AM EDT

Tunisia begins hearings into ex-dictator's rights abuses

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TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) -- Tunisian authorities have begun hearings on thousands of human rights abuse claims submitted to the country's Truth and Dignity commission, the body set up to investigate alleged abuses under the regime of ex-dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The commission was set up in December to organize hearings on 20 years of rapes, murders and torture committed under Ben Ali's regime. So far it's received around 12,700 complaints, the commission's president, former opposition figure Sihem Ben Sedrine, said Wednesday.

Ben Ali was overthrown in 2011 at the beginning of the so-called Arab Spring revolutions and now lives in exile in Saudi Arabia.

Ben Sedrine said the commission's aim is "not to throw people in prison" but to understand and prevent similar crimes in the future.

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