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TUNISIA

Freeze continues on African dictators’ assets

Switzerland is still working to return nearly one billion francs ($1.1 billion) in frozen assets to needy North African countries who deposed autocratic leaders in the Arab Spring, the foreign affairs ministry says.

The Swiss government continues to hold 700 million francs in assets from ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his associates, frozen since his departure from power in 2011, Valentin Zellweger, the head of the foreign ministry's international law department, said in Geneva on Tuesday.

It also holds 60 million francs in funds linked to ousted Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali since he left the country early the same year, Zellweger said.

Switzerland is currently working with the new administrations in those countries to find a way to return the funds to the Egyptian and Tunisian people, he said.

Following separate UN Security Council resolutions, Switzerland blocked 100 million francs from Libya and another 100 million francs from Syria, Zellweger said.

Asked why the restitution of funds to Tunisia and Egypt was taking so long, he said the onus was on those nations, since "it is they who determine the speed of the procedures."

"Switzerland is confronted in Egypt and Tunisia with cases unprecedented in size," Zellweger said.

In Tunisia's case, Switzerland held the accounts of 48 people close to Ben Ali, while 32 people linked to Mubarak had their holdings frozen in the Egyptian case, he said, adding that each account had registered between 250 and 2,000 separate transactions.

When asked about the relatively modest amount of frozen Tunisian funds, Zellweger cited two possible explanations:

Either "the Ben Ali clan did not like Switzerland" and had therefore placed its funds elsewhere, or the Swiss measures taken to avoid suspicious funds "worked well, and Swiss banks refused the funds," he said.

Switzerland is the only country that has published the amount of funds it has frozen, Zellweger said.

But he could not predict how long it would take to return the cash to its countries of origin, where in most cases the money is desperately needed for reconstruction or democratization efforts in the vacuum left by the departed dictators.

The fastest such procedure ever carried out by Switzerland took five years, ending in 1998 with the restitution of blocked funds linked to Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha after his reign ended with his death in 1998.
  
While frozen in Switzerland, the funds are managed conservatively, and any interest gains are returned to the country in question, along with the capital.

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EGYPT

UN rights chief alarmed over Egypt clashes

The United Nations human rights chief in Geneva voiced deep concern on Tuesday over the killing of at least 20 people in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in Egypt in recent days.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein: worried by Egypt developments. Photo: UNHRC

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "deeply disturbed" by the deaths in clashes that have raged in Egypt since Friday.
   
He demanded in a statement that Cairo "take urgent measures to bring an end to the excessive use of force by security personnel."
   
Zeid's comments came after 20 people were killed Sunday when protesters clashed with security forces after Islamists called for rallies against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's government as Egypt marked the fourth anniversary of the toppling of ex-strongman Hosni Mubarak.
   
Supporters of Mubarak's successor, Islamist Mohamed Morsi, have regularly clashed with security forces since he was ousted by then army chief Sisi in July 2013.
   
Sunday's death toll marked the highest for a single day since Sisi came to office after a landslide election victory last May.
   
"Hundreds of people have died during protests against successive governments since January 2011, and there has been very little in the way of accountability," Zeid said.
   
"The lack of justice for past excesses by security forces simply encourages them to continue on the same path," he warned, pointing out that this was "leading to more deaths and injuries, as we have seen in recent days."
   
The statement said that the death of a leading female activist, Shaimaa Al Sabagh, was caught "on video and in photographs posted on the Internet after she had apparently been shot from behind during a peaceful protest in central Cairo."
   
At least 97 people had also reportedly been injured in clashes in a range of cities, including Cairo, the statement said.
   
"I have in the past urged the Egyptian authorities to take urgent measures to ensure that any excessive use of force by security personnel is promptly investigated, alleged perpetrators are put on trial and victims have access to
justice and compensation," Zeid said.
   
He also decried numerous arrests over the weekend.
   
More than 500 backers of Egypt's blacklisted Muslim Brotherhood were also arrested, in the biggest police sweep targeting Morsi's supporters in a single day since Sisi came to power.
   
"All those who have been detained for protesting peacefully must be released," Zeid said, insisting that the long-term stability of Egypt is only possible if fundamental human rights are respected."
   
"Otherwise people's grievances will fester and feelings of injustice will grow, creating fertile ground for further social and political unrest," he warned.