EU ministers discuss Egypt freeze


Workers protest in demand of salary raises in Cairo, Egypt (AP)

EU finance ministers are to discuss the possible freezing of foreign-held assets of senior figures of the ousted Egyptian regime.

Chancellor George Osborne raised the issue with colleagues in Brussels on Monday evening and it has been placed on the agenda of the formal Ecofin meeting.

They will also examine what economic support can be offered to the country, now in the control of the military while a transition to civil control and elections is arranged.

The talks come a day after Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs that the UK had received a formal request to freeze funds held in Britain by “several former Egyptian officials”.

Hosni Mubarak, who bowed to the pressure of days of mounting protests on Friday and stepped down as president, it not believed to be among those targeted.

He is reputed to have amassed a fortune worth billions of pounds during his 30 years in office, with funds in British and Swiss banks and properties in London, New York and Los Angeles.

“We will of course co-operate with this request, working with EU and international partners as we have done in the case of Tunisia,” Mr Hague said in a Commons statement. “If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action.”

Mr Hague also appealed to Iran to show restraint in dealing with demonstrations there inspired by the popular overthrow of the Mubarak regime. Mr Hague said he had seen reports of peaceful demonstrators being assaulted and reminded President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of his championing of the right to free expression.

“President Ahmadinejad last Friday told the Egyptian people that they had the right to express their own views about their country,” he said in a statement. “I call on the Iranian authorities to allow their own people the same right and to ensure that the security authorities exercise restraint.”

Tear gas was reported to have been used in scenes reminiscent of those that put down anti-regime protests in the wake of President Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June 2009.

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