Africa

Tunisia 'to investigate Ben Ali family's assets'

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Media captionProtesters want members of Mr Ben Ali's RCD party excluded from power

Tunisian prosecutors have opened an investigation into foreign assets of toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family, reports say.

It will examine possible illegal transactions and foreign bank accounts, the official TAP news agency reported.

The move came as Swiss officials ordered a freeze on any funds held there by Mr Ben Ali.

The UN said on Wednesday it had received reports of 100 deaths in the unrest, and said it would investigate.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said: "My office has received information concerning more than 100 deaths over 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 Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa said on Monday that 78 people had been killed in the unrest.

Cabinet meeting

On Wednesday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets again in the Tunisian capital, urging allies of the ousted president to stop clinging to power.

Waving banners and chanting, they called for all links to the old regime to be severed.

"This will continue every day until we get rid of the ruling party," said Faydi Borni, a teacher.

"We got rid of the dictator but not the dictatorship. We want rid of this government that shut us up for 30 years."

They were lined up against hundreds of riot police, but were no reports of violence.

While the situation remains tense, curfew hours have been reduced, and the BBC's Wyre Davies in Tunis says traffic on the streets is increasing, political cartoons have appeared in the newly free press and some shops and businesses are reopening.

As the political turmoil continues, Tunisia's national unity cabinet is reported to have postponed its first meeting.

Ministers in the new interim government are currently discussing how to resolve deep divisions over the inclusion in key posts of members of the former government.

Private jet

Mr Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Friday following a spate of violent protests across Tunisia over unemployment, poverty and corruption.

Four opponents of Mr Ben Ali quit the new unity government within a day of being appointed, in protest at the number of ministers from the old regime who were still included.

In Geneva, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said the decision to freeze any funds of Mr Ben Ali was to prevent assets being withdrawn and also to ensure that a new Tunisian administration would be able to retrieve assets taken illicitly.

The ban also applies to any assets held by "his entourage", the foreign ministry said in a statement.

A Swiss judicial source told Reuters news agency that an association of Tunisians living in Switzerland had sought the freezing of assets including a building on Geneva's exclusive Rue du Rhone and a Falcon 9000 jet said to be at Geneva airport.

In other developments on Wednesday, the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, linked the upheaval in Tunisia to deteriorating economic conditions throughout the Arab world.

"The Arab soul is broken by poverty, unemployment and general recession," he said at the opening of an Arab League summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Kamel Morjane had flown to the summit but left before it began, leaving Tunisia to be represented by its ambassador to Egypt. The reasons for his sudden departure were not clear.

As behind-the-scenes talks continued in Tunisia to form a unity government, a former dissident appointed as youth minister defended the new body.

Slim Amamou, released from jail only last week, told the BBC that the government was a temporary one set up to help organise elections.

He said it was important to have people in the cabinet who knew how the wheels of government worked.

"Not everybody can be a novicae in politics in government like me," he told the BBC's World Today programme.

The blogger and internet activist, who only last week tweeted "I'm free" after his release from prison, said he had joined the cabinet "to have first-hand information on what's happening in the government".

"It's a temporary government in special conditions - we're here just to set up elections. It's not like I was elected," he said.