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Tunisia seeks gold in former dictator's assets

Tunisia has been aggressively pursuing the assets of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his associates, seizing bank accounts, luxury homes, and one-of-a-kind luxury cars.

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Visitors wander around a display of art that once belonged to the family of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at an auction in the Tunis suburb of Gammarth on Sunday. Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali kicked off viewing of thousands of luxury items once owned by the ousted leader and his family on the eve of a public auction, in a bid to raise millions of euros for government coffers.

Amine Landoulsi/AP

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On a crisp December morning in Tunis, a finance ministry official named Mohamed Hamaied was demonstrating the horsepower of maroon V-12 BMW on the runway of a national guard airfield. Beside him sat an agent for a potential buyer.

“You know, this is the same runway that Ben Ali fled from,” remarked another passenger, automotive expert Mourad Bouzidi, from the back seat.

The BMW is among the seized possessions of deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his inner circle that the government is selling to help fill depleted treasury coffers. But the sale of regime assets, which are often hard to track down and obtain, is not going to be enough. Long-term prosperity needs real reforms.

In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the fall of dictators has triggered a scramble for cash as new governments struggle to restore stability amid high expectations and damaged economies.

In Tunisia, high unemployment has fueled labor strikes and rioting, which in turn provoke political squabbling. Last month, clashes in the rural town of Siliana between stone-throwing protestors and police – who fired birdshot – prompted some opposition politicians to demand Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali’s resignation.

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