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Switzerland Freezes Assets of Ivory Coast's Gbagbo, Tunisia's Ben Ali

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey

Switzerland says it has frozen the assets of Ivory Coast's incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, and Tunisia's former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Wednesday the move is aimed at ensuring the Swiss financial system does not become a refuge for funds "illegally" obtained from the people of Ivory Coast and Tunisia.

Ms. Calmy-Rey, who holds the Swiss rotating presidency, said the freeze on assets of Mr. Gbagbo, Ben Ali and their entourages would take effect "immediately."

The European Union froze Mr. Gbagbo's assets earlier this week in response to his refusal to hand power to his rival, Alassane Ouattara. Most countries have recognized Mr. Ouattara as the winner of Ivory Coast's November presidential election.

The Swiss foreign minister said her government wanted to act quickly to prevent Mr. Gbagbo from shifting funds to Switzerland to get around the EU sanctions.

She said the freeze on Mr. Gbagbo will remain in effect for three years. His assets also have been frozen in the United States.

Ms. Calmy-Rey said Switzerland hopes the new sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo and Ben Ali will encourage Ivorian and Tunisian authorities to seek help in filing criminal cases against the two men.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia last Friday following mass protests against his 23-year long authoritarian rule. Tunisian prosecutors opened an investigation Wednesday into allegations that the former president and his relatives stole state funds.

The investigation will examine overseas bank accounts, properties and other assets held by Ben Ali and his extended family.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, and AFP.