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Swiss freeze assets as Mubarak steps down

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The Swiss cabinet has decided to block any funds that may be held in Switzerland by former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who stepped down on Friday.

It has published an ordinance asking Swiss banks to search for any assets belonging to Mubarak and his family and to freeze them, a government spokesman said.

A statement on the website of the foreign ministry said the sale or disposal of any assets, especially real estate, belonging to these people was also forbidden.

The government “is taking all the measures required to avoid any misappropriation of government assets,” it explains.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Bern could not specify how much money might be involved.

Earlier this week, the Swiss finance minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, told Swiss television that investigations were underway to clarify whether there were in fact any assets in the country at all, and promised that the government would “act appropriately”.

The subject of Mubarak’s wealth has long been a matter of speculation, with many Egyptians believing he and his family own up to $70 billion (SFr68 billion) worth of assets, some of which is allegedly held in secret offshore bank accounts.

The Swiss government has called on the authorities in Egypt to respond quickly to the “legitimate demands of the Egyptian people in a credible, participatory and transparent manner.”

In an initial reaction, Swiss president and foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is on a visit to Madrid, responded cautiously to the news of Mubarak’s resignation, saying it was necessary to wait and see “what happens next”.

But she added that the Swiss ambassador in Cairo had described the atmosphere as “World Cup euphoria times ten”.

Explosions of joy

Mubarak resigned on Friday evening, bowing out after a historic 18-day wave of pro-democracy demonstrations and handing control to the military

A massive crowd in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square exploded with joy, waving Egyptian flags, and car horns and celebratory shots in the air were to be heard all round the city of 18 million after Vice-President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national television just after nightfall.

“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” a grim-looking Suleiman said.

“He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state.”

A brief statement read on Egyptian television later by an army spokesman, “saluted” Mubarak “for what he has given during his time, in war and peace, and his decision to put the interests of the country first”.

It promised to issue another statement later defining the steps the Supreme Council intends to follow.

“It stresses at the same time that there is no other way forward other than the legitimate one aspired to by the people.”

A ruling party official said that Mubarak and his family had left Cairo for the glitzy Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where there is a presidential residence.

Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his powers to Suleiman while keeping his title in a television announcement on Thursday night.

But the fury of the protestors rejecting the move appears to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely.

Hundreds of thousands marched throughout the day in cities across the country, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state television building as soldiers stood by.

Reaction

Nobel Peace laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, whose young supporters were among the organisers of the protest movement, told The Associated Press news agency: “This is the greatest day of my life.”

“The country has been liberated after decades of repression,” he said, adding that he expected a “beautiful” transition of power.

The resignation of Mubarak sparked scenes of joy in countries across the Middle East.

Many governments and political leaders have also hailed the events in Egypt.

“The people of Egypt have spoken, the voices have been heard and Egypt will never be the same,” said United States President Barack Obama.

“I am sure there will be difficult days ahead and many questions remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt can find the answers and do so peacefully, constructively, and in the spirit of unity that have defined these past few weeks.”

His vice president, Joe Biden, said the change of power was a “pivotal” moment in Egypt and the Middle East.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, called for “transparent, orderly and peaceful transition” and “free, fair and credible” elections.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU respected Mubarak’s decision.

“By standing down, he has listened to the voices of the Egyptian people and has opened the way to faster and deeper reforms,” she said.

“The future of Egypt rightly remains in the hands of the Egyptian people. The EU stands ready to help in any way it can.”

SwissInfo

SwissInfo

swissinfo is an enterprise of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation (SBC). Its role is to inform Swiss living abroad about events in their homeland and to raise awareness of Switzerland in other countries. swissinfo achieves this through its nine-language internet news and information platform.

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