World News

France says blocking suspicious Tunisian asset moves

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government called on Saturday for Tunisia to hold free elections as soon as possible and said it had taken steps to block suspicious movements of Tunisian assets in France.

“France has taken the necessary steps to ensure suspicious financial movements concerning Tunisian assets in France are blocked administratively,” President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said in a statement.

“France is prepared to meet any request for help to ensure the democratic process takes place in indisputable fashion,” said the statement, issued after Sarkozy met several key ministers at his offices for talks on Tunisia.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s president for more than 23 years, fled the former French colony for Saudi Arabia on Friday in the face of massive protests.

French government spokesman Francois Baroin said Tracfin, a government body that tracks money laundering, had been asked to alert all banks and other financial institutions in France to watch out for movements of assets belonging to Ben Ali, his family or people closely connected to him.

Tracfin could then block transactions and alert the judicial authorities if it saw fit, he told RTL radio.

Baroin, who was present at the Saturday meeting with Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace, said in a separate interview on France Info radio that Ben Ali family members were unwelcome in France as was Ben Ali himself.

“Ben Ali family present on French soil are not supposed to stay,” he said.

Asked about reports that relatives of Ben Ali had checked into a hotel in the EuroDisney park near Paris a couple of days ago, Baroin said: “These family members have not registered a desire to stay and they are going to leave.”

Reporting by Brian Love and Emmanuel Jarry; editing by Noah Barkin