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Europe to debate Egyptian assets freeze

(BRUSSELS) - European Union ministers will on Tuesday tackle Egypt's request to freeze the assets of leading members of outgoing president Hosni Mubarak's regime, a senior diplomat said.

Finance ministers holding two days of talks on the rumbling eurozone crisis were directed by their governments late on Monday to prioritise an accord on how to handle a series of verbal requests for action against the assets of Mubarak henchmen.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said a list of "six or seven" Egyptians, "but definitely not including Mubarak," were being targeted in Cairo, and that the EU would look at using a United Nations convention against corruption as grounds for freezing accounts and seizing assets.

Mubarak's name "was not even discussed or debated" when British finance minister George Osborne raised the issue during evening talks in Brussels on Monday otherwise centred on eurozone bailout funding.

Britain, Germany and France had each said earlier that Egypt asked their countries to freeze the assets of former regime officials.

British foreign minister William Hague Britain pointed to the similar course of action taken with Tunisia, whose president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled last month in a popular revolt which lit the fuse for the mass protests that deposed Mubarak.

"We will of course cooperate with this request, working with EU and international partners as we have done in the case of Tunisia," Hague told British lawmakers in London.

Hague added: "If there is any evidence of illegality or misuse of state assets we will take firm and prompt action."

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said Tuesday's discussion will cover "the situation in all the countries, like Tunisia and Egypt in particular, examining financial and economic aspects" arising from the protest movement that is also affecting Algeria and others.

She said that means "investment perspectives and support, notably by the European Investment Bank (and) different national development agencies," in a bid to "support the democratic movement taking root in these countries."

Mubarak stepped down last Friday after 30 years of rule but remains in Egypt, holed up in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Germany and France too said later they had received requests from Egyptian authorities for the financial assets of former government members and lawmakers to be frozen.

A French government spokesman also said the request "did not concern either former president Hosni Mubarak nor members of his family."

Ahead of the Brussels meet, the head of the 17-nation eurozone area, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, said he hoped to see Europe follow Switzerland's lead in freezing assets held by Mubarak.

Britain's government has been under growing pressure to freeze funds belonging to Mubarak and his entourage amid reports they stashed millions of pounds in accounts in Britain and elsewhere.

Business Secretary Vince Cable warned Sunday that the British government would act against any British bank involved in helping Mubarak improperly move funds but said the British government would not act alone.

"I wasn't aware that he (Mubarak) had enormous assets here but there clearly needs to be concerted international action on this," Cable told the BBC.

Hague also said that Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq had told him opposition figures would be included in a reshuffled cabinet within the next week, following Mubarak's dramatic departure.

The minister said he had spoken to Shafiq to discuss the situation in the country, where the military have suspended the constitution and dissolved parliament ahead of fresh elections in six months.

"I encouraged the Egyptian government to make further moves to accommodate the views of opposition figures and was pleased to hear from prime minister Shafiq that members of the opposition should be included in a reshuffled cabinet due in the next week," Hague said.

"We would also like to see a clear timetable for free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections and a genuinely inclusive dialogue about the country's future."

Hague said Britain welcomed the Egyptian military's commitment to "all regional and international obligations and treaties," a reference to the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel.

Economic and Financial Affairs Council

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