Ex-Tunisian leader's assets probed


A protester addresses riot police officers during a demonstration against the RCD party in Tunis (AP)

Tunisia has begun an investigation into the overseas assets of its overthrown president and his deeply resented family.

The move came as hundreds of protesters led a peaceful rally in central Tunis, demanding that former allies of deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stop clinging to power.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday after 23 years in power, and a caretaker government run by his prime minister is now struggling to calm tensions.

The fragile state of the government highlights Tunisians’ questions about who is in control.

The official TAP news agency said the Tunisian prosecutor’s office moved to investigate bank accounts, property and other assets held by Ben Ali, his wife Leila Trabelsi and other relatives. His relatives – especially his wife’s family – were seen as corrupt and dominated many businesses in the nation.

Meanwhile, the Swiss president said that her country’s federal council agreed to freeze any assets in Switzerland belonging to Ben Ali, to help work up a possible criminal case over alleged stolen funds.

In Berlin, a German official said the European Union was working on a joint position or concrete proposals on Tunisia, which could include a decision on how to handle Ben Ali’s assets in Europe.

At the UN European headquarters in Geneva, human rights commissioner Navi Pillay told reporters she would send a team to Tunisia to investigate, and that “human rights abuses were at the heart of Tunisia’s problems”.

She said her office has received information on more than 100 deaths in the last five weeks “as a result of live fire, as well as protest suicides and the deadly prison riots at the weekend”.

Tunisia’s interim government, already hit by defections, was due to hold its first cabinet meeting. It also eased the hours of a curfew initiated in the final days of Ben Ali’s rule – ended after a deadly revolt swept up the streets nationwide.

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