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Swiss freeze assets as Mubarak steps down

Egyptian anti-government protestors celebrate minutes after the announcement that Mubarak was resigning Keystone

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.

This content was published on February 11, 2011 - 19:03
swissinfo.ch and agencies

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











Swiss president and foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, who is on a visit to Madrid, said the decree had been published half an hour after the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation.

As for the situation in Egypt, she said it was necessary to wait and see “what happens next,” explaining that no details were known other than that power had been transferred to an army council.

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

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

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.

Explosions of joy

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

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 on Friday.

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

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.

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.

Mistrust

Mubarak had promised only that he would not stand for re-election in September and that he would preside over reforms until then.

This was not enough for the many hundreds of thousands of mistrustful protesters who rallied in cities across the Arab world’s most populous and influential country on Friday, fed up with high unemployment, a corrupt elite and police repression.

The escalating confrontation has raised fear of uncontrolled violence in Egypt, a key ally of the United States in an oil-rich region where the chance of chaos spreading to other stable but repressive states troubles the West.

Reaction

US President Barack Obama was set to deliver a statement at 7.30pm Swiss time.

“The President was informed of President Mubarak’s decision to step down during a meeting in the Oval Office. He then watched TV coverage of the scene in Cairo for several minutes in the outer Oval [office]," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

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.

"It is important now that the dialogue is accelerated leading to a broad-based government which will respect the aspirations of, and deliver stability for, the Egyptian people. The future of Egypt rightly remains in the hands of the Egyptian people. The EU stands ready to help in any way it can."

Falling oil prices

World stocks rallied and oil prices fell after Mubarak stepped down.

Prices of gold and US Treasury bonds partly erased early gains as Mubarak's departure partially revived investors' appetite for risk. The US dollar briefly pared gains, but remained strong against a basket of major currencies.

"It looks like the stock market is taking the news well," said Gary Thayer, chief macro strategist with Wells Fargo in St Louis.

"One thing that has weighed on investor sentiment is that the price of oil would go up in the case of political turmoil, and Mubarak's leaving reduces that possibility."

US crude was down 23 cents at $86.50 a barrel at 5.15pm Swiss time. Brent crude pared gains and was up 24 cents at $101.11 a barrel.

Egypt demonstrations

Unrest in Egypt started on January 25, following a revolt that toppled the leader of Tunisia.

Protestors massed in Cairo, where they gathered in Tahrir Square, and in a number of other towns and cities.

Some 300 people have died in the protests, and numerous state buildings have been torched.

Some workers have also embarked on strike action.

At the end of January President Hosni Mubarak dismissed some unpopular  ministers and appointed his first ever vice-president, intelligence head Omar Suleiman. The minister of civil aviation Ahmed Shafiq became prime minister.

But Mubarak’s promises to address public anger at rising prices, unemployment and the huge gap between rich and poor failed to halt broader calls for an end to the Mubarak regime.

The United States and other western countries have called for an orderly transition to a more democratic system.

Mubarak came to power 30 years ago after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

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