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Swiss to freeze Ben Ali funds
Switzerland orders freeze on ex-Tunisian president's funds, while his country opens an inquiry into the family's assets.
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2011 16:35 GMT

The Swiss government has ordered a freeze on all funds held by Tunisia's ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the country's foreign minister has announced.

At the same time, prosecutors in Tunisia opened an inquiry into the assets of Ben Ali and his extended family, the official TAP news agency reported.

The Tunisian inquiry will reportedly look into possible illegal financial transactions, foreign bank accounts and real estate held by Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi and other relatives.

Meanwhile, the last political prisoner has been released from jail, a move promised by the so-called "government of national unity." 

Wednesday's move by the Swiss government was announced at a cabinet meeting following domestic political pressure as well as legal action taken by Tunisian exiles in Switzerland this week.

"The government decided at its meeting today to freeze any funds in Switzerland of the ex-Tunisian president and his entourage with immediate effect," Calmy-Reys, who currently also holds the rotating Swiss presidency, said.

"Switzerland wants to avoid our financial centre being used to hide funds illegally taken from the populations concerned," she added.

Calmy-Reys said the move was aimed at both preventing any assets that might be in Switzerland from being withdrawn, and ensuring that Tunisia's new authorities would be able to retrieve illicitly taken public assets.

More deaths

Protesters are out on the streets of Tunisia once again demanding the ousted president be brought back to stand trial on corruption charges.

Reporting from the capital, Al Jazeera's James Bays said the political situation is in crisis. Ministers postponed Wednesday's cabinet meeting, which will now take place some time on Thursday.

Al Jazeera's in depth coverage of the crisis

Tunisians say they will continue to protest until symbols of the old regime have disappeared from the political scene.

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said on Wednesday that her office received information on more than 100 deaths during the country's recent turmoil.

"My office has received information concerning more than 100 deaths over the last five weeks as a result of live fire, as well as protest suicides and the deadly prison riots at the weekend," Pillay said at a news conference in Geneva.

'Work in progress'

Meanwhile, Gordon Gray, the US ambassador to Tunisia, called the popular uprising in the country a "work in progress" and a "new phenomenon".

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Wednesday in his first public remarks since a month of protests ended with the overthrow of longtime president Ben Ali, Gray called for "responsibility" on both sides.

"I think what we have in Tunisia is a situation where ... this democratic expression is a work in progress," he said. "And it's a new phenomenon and it's something that people are doing without very much experience."

"This democratic expression is a work in progress ... it's a new phenomenon and it's something that people are doing without very much experience"

Gordon Gray,
US ambassador to Tunisia

Gray called the protests "a constitutional right that we cherish and we engage in," but said that demonstrators had to voice their disagreements in a peaceful manner, and security forces should also act with responsibility.

For now, Tunisia's "work in progress" seems nearly dead on arrival. On Wednesday, the opposition Democratic Forum for Labour and Unity (FDLT) party announced its refusal to rejoin the fracturing "unity" government and called for the former ruling party of Ben Ali to dissolve.

On Tuesday, a day after Mohamed Ghannouchi, the prime minister, announced the makeup of the first post-Ben Ali cabinet, the FDLT withdrew three of its ministers. A fourth, party leader Mostapha Ben Jaafar, said he would "suspend" his role as minister of health. 

Cracks within ruling party

The resignations were not the only bump in the road; also on Tuesday, Ghannouchi and Fouad Mebazaa, the interim president, both resigned from Ben Ali's RCD in an effort to appease the opposition.

Ghannouchi and Mebazaa were forced into the move after the opposition ministers refused to sit in a cabinet that contained eight high-ranking members of Ben Ali's government, which many Tunisians see as corrupt.

The government has been in a state of limbo since the resignations on Tuesday.

The opposition Ettajdid party said it will also pull out of the coalition if ministers from Ben Ali's RCD do not give up party membership and return to the state all properties they obtained through the RCD, state television said.

Ghannouchi, who has been prime minister since 1999, said that ministers from Ben Ali's party were included in the new government "because we need them in this phase."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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