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U.S. Tightens Libya Sanctions, Targets Banks in Turkey, Tunisia, Lebanon

The U.S. government tightened sanctions against three Libya-controlled banks in Turkey, Tunisia and Lebanon on Tuesday, ratcheting up the pressure on leader Moammer Gadhafi's support.

The U.S. Treasury Department said it had targeted three foreign Libyan-owned banks, identified six additional companies subject to sanctions, and lifted sanctions against a former Libyan oil minister who defected from the Gadhafi regime last month.

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Tunisians Voice Unease over Ben Ali Quick Verdict

Tunisian authorities came under fire Tuesday for their high-speed sentencing in absentia of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife to 35 years in jail for embezzling public funds.

The court's quick verdict Monday after only six hours of deliberation on the first day of the landmark trial was dismissed as a "charade" by some Tunisians and a "joke" by a Ben Ali lawyer.

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Ben Ali, Wife Sentenced in Absentia to 35 Years

Toppled Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced in absentia Monday to 35 years in prison each in a trial for misappropriating public funds, a judge said.

Judge Touhami Hafi also fined the exiled ex-leader 50 million dinars (25 million euros) and his wife Leila Trabelsi 41 million dinars on the first day of the trial.

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Ben Ali Denies All Charges on Eve of Trial

Ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose trial begins in absentia in Tunis on Monday, denies all charges against him and hopes his country will "overcome chaos," his lawyer said.

Ben Ali "strongly denies all charges they are trying to press as he never possessed the sums of money they claimed to have found in his office," his Beirut-based lawyer Akram Azoury said in a statement released on the eve of the trial.

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PM: Trial of Tunisia's Ben Ali to start June 20

The trial of ousted Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in exile in Saudi Arabia, will start in his absence on June 20, interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi told al-Jazeera Monday.

"I am announcing it for the first time, the trial will start on the 20th", Essebsi told the television channel.

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Vatican Fears Increasingly Unstable Arab World

A Vatican expression of concern over the violence in Syria this week was the latest sign of deep misgivings in Catholic circles about Arab uprisings seen as a threat for Christian minorities.

"The pope has been rather silent on the Arab revolutions," said Marco Politi, a Vatican specialist for Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano.

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Tunisia PM: Elections Postponed to October 23

Tunisia has postponed its first election following the ouster of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, set to take place in July, to October 23, interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi said Wednesday.

"We have taken into account all the views and have decided to hold the elections on October 23," Essebsi said during a meeting of political parties, regional representatives and civil society.

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Tunisia Set to Announce Election Date Wednesday

Tunisians will learn Wednesday whether the first elections since their popular uprising toppled longtime ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked off the Arab Spring will be held as promised on July 24.

The interim government faces objections over the date from the independent electoral commission, which said truly credible polls could not be organized in such a short time and called for a postponement to October 16.

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Quarter of Tunisians Living in Poverty

Nearly a quarter of the Tunisian population is living below the poverty line and some 700,000 people are unemployed, according to figures by the social affairs ministry on Saturday.

Some 24.7 percent of the North African country's 10.4 million population live off less than two dollars a day, the international poverty threshold, said figures quoted on the official TAP news agency.

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Europe Eyes 1.2 Bln Euros to Boost Democracy in Its Backyard

Europe is looking to pump 1.2 billion euros of extra aid into fledgling democracies spawned by the Arab Spring as well as those on its eastern flank, according to a policy U-turn unveiled Wednesday.

Slammed for propping up despots and turning a blind eye to rights abuses in the past, the "top to toe" revamp of European Union policy to its neighbours aims to link aid to political and economic reform.

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