The Saudi government welcomed Ben Ali on Friday, ushering him to a heavily guarded palace in Jeddah  [AFP]

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's former president, has taken refuge in Saudi Arabia following a mass public uprising and weeks of deadly protests.

Saudi Arabia confirmed on Saturday that he and his family had been welcomed into the kingdom due to "exceptional circumstances" in Tunisia.

"Out of concern for the exceptional circumstances facing the brotherly Tunisian people and in support of the security and stability of their country... the Saudi government has welcomed president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family to the kingdom," the government said in a statement.

Ben Ali fled to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Friday, where he and his family were ushered to a heavily guarded palace tucked behind palm trees and greenery.

But the kingdom's decision to house the embattled leader, in power for more than 23 years, sparked angry condemnation among many in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere:

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies