A row inside Tunisia's ruling alliance over the extradition of Libya's former prime minister took a fresh turn late on Monday after reports that he had suffered a beating in a Libyan jail.
Baghdadi al-Mahmudi, who served as Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's last prime minister, had been beaten up on arriving back in Libya and hospitalised with a haemorrhage, his French lawyer Marcel Ceccaldi said.
But Libyan officials were quick to dismiss the allegation.
"I completely deny reports that Baghdadi al-Mahmudi was assaulted," Deputy Justice Minister Khalifa Ashur told AFP.
"He is being treated well in line with international standards and it is impossible for such an act to occur. He is in a safe place and his guards were carefully selected," he added.
Ceccaldi described how his client had been rushed out of Tunisia in the early hours of Sunday in what he described as a "kidnapping".
"This is an extradition towards a rogue country by a government using gangster methods," Ceccaldi said in Paris.
"This government speaks of democracy and human rights but in practice it constantly breaks them since in Tunisia, according to applicable law, it is the president who must sign an extradition decree," he said.
Tunisia's post-revolution political alliance had already been plunged into crisis over the affair.
President Moncef Marzouki is furious that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali ordered Mahmudi's transfer to Libya without his consent.
Marzouki had always opposed the extradition, arguing that Libya's new regime offered insufficient guarantees of a fair trial. But when Jebali approved the move Sunday, the president was in southern Tunisia for an official ceremony.
Marzouki, a veteran human rights activist did not sign the extradition order and, according to his adviser, he only found out about Mahmudi's transfer through the media.
The presidency "considers this decision is illegal, all the more so because it has been done unilaterally and without consulting the president of the republic," a statement from Marzouki's office said late Sunday.
"The extradition decision, signed by the head of the Tunisian government, constitutes a clear violation of our country's international commitments and those towards the UN," the statement added.
But the government hit back on Monday. There was nothing illegal with the extradition procedure, it insisted, adding Marzouki had been kept informed.
"The presidency was informed Sunday of Mr Mahmudi's extradition," spokesman Samir Dilou said.
"As soon as the head of the government signed the extradition order, all relevant institutions were informed," Justice Minister Nourredine B'Hiri said.
The virulence of Marzouki's statement has exposed the uneasy nature of his alliance with Jebali's Ennahda (Renaissance) party, which won Tunisia's post-uprising polls in October 2011.
Marzouki has tried to retain control of Tunisia's foreign policy in recent months, but the row over Mahmudi's extradition illustrates how little sway he really holds -- for Tunisia's three-way power deal is not an even split.
The Islamist Ennahda party may have had to form an alliance with other leading parties, but it won the most votes in the election for the constituent assembly.
A power-sharing deal handed the prime minister's job to Ennahda, the presidency to Marzouki's Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the post of parliament speaker to Mustapha Ben Jaafar, who heads the leftist Ettakatol.
Marzouki's camp has threatened to take the matter to the constituent assembly, the interim body tasked with drafting a new constitution and preparing fresh polls.
But the political leadership of Tunisia's governing troika has agreed to meet in a bid to defuse the row.
"Let's not escalate the situation," said Ennahda spokesman Nejib Gharbi. "I don't think the troika's future is at risk. It's a strategic alliance."